From Cambodian Political Refugee To College Professor
Vinnie, age 26, and his Vietnamese wife, Suong, loved Mexican food. They would often drive to Mexico with their two young children on weekends to eat, shop, and just be tourists.
One weekend, on the way back to the United States, they were stopped at the border. The immigration agent found Vinnie’s name in the computer along with a conviction from his youth. He was taken into custody. The government placed him in immigration proceedings to be deported.
Suong promptly hired an attorney. At court, his lawyer conceded Vinnie’s crime was equivalent to an aggravated felony. This meant Vinnie had no chance for relief from automatic deportation.
Feeling desperate, they told friends at their church about Vinnie’s situation. She was referred to our Hemet immigration attorney office.
By the time she contacted us, there was less than one week to file Vinnie’s notice of appeal, allowing Vinnie to remain here while he continued to contest his deportation.
Based on the limited information provided, Carlos decided to raise the Convention Against Torture (CAT) as a defense. Since CAT had only recently become a part of immigration law, Carlos sensed both Vinnie’s attorney and the immigration judge missed this issue.
Vinnie was born in Cambodia. Along with his mother and two older sisters, he had been granted permanent resident status based on asylum and refugee law nearly 20 years beforehand.
His father, a pro democracy leader and college professor, had been gunned down by a firing squad in front of the family. They were thrown into a refugee camp. They later escaped and fled through the country side until they reached a safe haven.
The psychological scars remained.
His mother and sisters had lingering mental and physical problems. From the age of ten, Vinnie assumed the big brother role.
As a Cambodia immigrant in a foreign country and young teenager, the pressure grew too great for him. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd. This led to a theft conviction shortly after his 18th birthday.
Vinnie was sentenced to 90 days in jail
When Vinnie got out, he decided to reform. He joined a Buddhist monastery for six months, spending his time in prayer and meditation.
Shortly afterwards, he met Suong. A year later, they married. Now, they had two daughters. Vinnie was a sophomore in college.
They both feared their dreams had died.
Since major changes to immigration law had taken place only a few years before, there was a possibility that the classification of Vinnie’s conviction as an aggravated felony could be proven wrong.
A year later, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted our appeal. The BIA agreed the judge should have considered CAT, even if Vinnie’s first attorney had failed to raise it.
CAT, alone, was not enough.
Given his experience with green card cases, Carlos knew CAT would not restore him to permanent resident status.
As a result, Carlos challenged the government’s earlier position. He disputed that Vinnie’s conviction was an aggravated felony.
Since many changes to immigration law, especially related to convictions, had taken place three years beforehand, he asserted the court’s earlier ruling violated due process protections.
Carlos refused to concede Vinnie was automatically deportable. The judge grew upset and concluded Carlos was trying to go beyond the scope of the BIA decision by raising the new arguments. He denied our motions.
As Carlos prepared for trial, he was also getting ready to file a new immigration appeal to protect Vinnie from deportation based on the aggravated felony restrictions.
Just a few days before Vinnie’s trial, in a separate case, the Supreme Court ruled our position was correct.
This changed our strategy. Because the conviction did not fall under the newer aggravated felony provisions, Vinnie was now entitled to a full merits hearing.
We still had to win his immigration trial. Like his father, Vinnie has a lighting quick mind. Preparing him to testify was not difficult. As a witness, explaining his family’s journey from Cambodia and Southeast Asia to the United States, from refugees to permanent resident status, Vinnie was superlative.
Today, not surprisingly, Vinnie is a professor of philosophy. His wife works at a different local college and their two children are now in high school. They moved from Moreno Valley to Redlands and own a home, from where he still takes care of his mother and sisters.
This article, focused on the topics of asylum law and immigration appeals, is part four of a series on the successes of immigration lawyer Carlos Batara in different types of cases.
Follow this link to read more: Planning Ahead Prevents Deportation