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. He was charged as a Cambodian immigrant who had committed an aggravated felony.
Suong promptly hired an attorney. At court, the 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. They were informed about other cases where Carlos had successfully served as an attorney for Cambodian immigrants and 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 Cambodian 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’s early adolescent problems reflect one of the unfortunate legacies of the Vietnam War.
The impact of traumatic experiences fleeing from their homeland affected the sociocultural adjustment of many Cambodian immigrant refugees who gained entry to U.S. between 1975 and 1994.
As a result of his indiscretions, 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, Carlos explained there was a possibility the classification of Vinnie’s conviction as an aggravated felony could be proven wrong. Vinnie and his wife agreed to file an appeal based on this argument.
A year later, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted the appeal. The BIA agreed the judge should have considered CAT, even if Vinnie’s first attorney had failed to raise it.
The case was sent back to the immigration judge for new hearings.
CAT, alone, was not enough. It did not restore him to lawful permanent resident status.
From the outset, Carlos knew a second step, challenging the government’s earlier position at immigration court, would be necessary. Since he had explained this sequence to Vinnie and Suong in advance, they were ready for the next round of battle.
Because many changes to immigration law, especially related to convictions, had taken place only three years beforehand, his position was that the court’s earlier ruling violated Vinnie’s due process protections.
At the next hearing, Carlos refused to concede Vinnie was automatically deportable. He disputed that Vinnie’s conviction was an aggravated felony.
Already displeased his ruling had been reversed, the judge grew upset with our opposition and concluded Carlos was trying to go beyond the scope of the BIA decision by raising the new arguments. Vinnie’s motions were denied. He set the case for trial.
As Vinnie and Carlos were preparing for trial, Carlos was also getting ready to file a new immigration appeal to protect Vinnie from deportation if the judge decided against Vinnie based on the aggravated felony restrictions.
Just a few days before Vinnie’s hearing, in a separate case, the Supreme Court ruled our position regarding the convictions was correct. This meant the judge was overruled again.
It changed our strategy. Now that the conviction did not fall under the newer aggravated felony provisions, Vinnie was entitled to a full merits hearing.
Vinnie still had to win a favorable decision. From a less-than-friendly judge.
Like his father, Vinnie was gifted with a lightning quick mind. Preparing him to testify was not difficult.
As a witness, explaining his family’s journey from Southeast Asia to the U.S., from living in refugee camps to being granted lawful 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 takes care of his mother and sisters, who still suffer post traumatic stress due to their refugee days.
No matter how difficult the road ahead may seem, do not give up without exploring all your options. This series of immigrant success stories is dedicated to those who refuse to stop believing that some day, somehow, victory will be theirs.
This article, focused on the topics of asylum law and immigration appeals, is Example Number 4 on the different types of challenges and obstacles which immigration lawyer Carlos Batara has helped immigrants overcome.
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