Although it doesn’t happen often, the detention of U.S. citizens who are unable to prove their United States citizenship takes place more than the public suspects.
The recent news story of Lorenzo Palma reminded me about this sad reality.
I recall, about ten years ago, assisting a Mexican immigrant, Jorge, who was relatively clueless about his citizen status, win citizenship.
Despite that his family had not claimed his status over an entire generation.
I was originally retained to assist Jorge on his appeal. He was facing deportation.
He was in his mid-40s.
His wife, Rosie, was born in New York. She had attempted to sponsor him for legal residency. His application was denied and he was placed in removal proceedings at immigration court.
He had lost his immigration case.
Upon questioning, I learned he was possibly a U.S. citizen – something neither he nor his attorney had considered.
A Missed Generation Of Citizenship Benefits And Privileges
To say the least, he was shocked. If my suspicion was correct, it meant his family had lost a full generation of U.S. citizenship benefits.
I raised the issue as part of his BIA appeal.
The BIA approved his approval, sending the matter back to the immigration judge not only to reweigh the merits of his request for cancellation of removal, but also to review evidence about his possible citizenship status.
However, Jorge now faced another major concern.
Obtaining evidence to prove an immigration claim is often akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
Much like the case of Lorenzo Palma.
Almost all clients, when they first visit my immigration and naturalization law office, wonder why I question them about the immigration history of their grandparents during their initial case consultation – especially when their parents never claimed U.S. citizenship.
Palma’s 18 month detention ordeal in an immigration jail illustrates why such answers are sometimes critical.
U.S. Citizen Released After 18 Months in Houston Immigration Jail
Daniel M. Kowalski, Lexis-Nexis, January 19, 2016
Ever since immigration judge Saul Greenstein flagged the possibility that Mr. Palma, 39, unbeknownst to himself, might have acquired U.S. citizenship from his mother, who, born in Mexico in 1948, unbeknownst to herself, might have acquired it from her father, the family had been on a scavenger hunt to find evidence the government already had to prove Lorenzo’s maternal grandfather Lazaro Palma was born in the United States and resided there 10 years, five of which were after the age of 16.
The search required the location of decades-old records, ranging from Lazaro Palma’s 1914 Texas birth certificate to a 1950 manifest to various other documents and affidavits, all of which cost the family time, worry, and money.
Neglected Citizenship Status: A Not Uncommon Immigration Problem
This type of citizenship problem is not surprising, especially in U.S. Southwestern states. (Of course, the issue is broader than just a Southwestern United States immigration matter.)
In a global community, many folks cross boundaries and move to foreign countries for work, pleasure, or love. Some stay abroad for many, many years, and never return to the United States. Several years later, children are born, unsuspecting that they can legally claim their U.S. citizenship status.
If children are unaware of their right to claim citizenship, most grandchildren would not know.
This was Mr. Palma’s situation.
In Jorge’s case, our efforts to unlock the doors of citizenship led to the discovery he had a half-sister, born to his father several years after he had returned to the United States.
She, too, was fascinated by our hypothesis. She proved invaluable in helping to prove her father’s birth place, family heritage, and 65-year history of residence.
As a San Bernardino immigration attorney, I’ve learned in these types of matters, a small dose of good luck is often the determining factor.
She was our four-leaf clover.
The fortuitous revelation in Mr. Palma’s case was made by the immigration judge – and I would be remiss not to emphasize that point here.
In his matter, the immigration judge flagged the potential legal issue surrounding his citizenship, known as the Doctrine of Constructive Retention, for him.
Unfortunately, the degree of knowledge and thoroughness – as well as the level of compassion in ensuring immigrants’ due process rights are fully developed before a final deportation order is issued – that were exhibited in Mr. Palma’s case is not common to all who wear black robes at immigration proceedings.
He deserves kudos and praise.
For Mr. Palma, he unlocked the door to citizenship after his family had skipped an entire generation of U.S. citizenship benefits and privileges.