Winning the Unwinnable: From Felony Re-entry to U.S. Citizen

Contributed by Amber L. Weeks

One year ago, Julio* could not even walk into our office for a consultation because he was sitting in jail facing charges of felony re-entry and serious jail time. Today, Julio is home with his family and in the process of applying for citizenship.

Julio became a lawful permanent resident in the United States over 25 years ago, but he was deported after both his criminal and immigration attorneys ineffectively handled his cases. Julio’s troubles began when his criminal defense attorney failed to advise him that he was pleading guilty to an aggravated felony offense under immigration law, which would result in his certain deportation. Instead, his criminal defense attorney erroneously told him that everything would likely be fine with immigration since he received a conditional discharge, and his offense would ultimately be dismissed under state law.  Julio was then deported after his prior immigration attorney repeatedly failed to meet court deadlines. After nearly starving in Mexico, Julio returned to the United States to try to care for his wife, children, and grandchildren. However, he was caught by immigration, charged with felony reentry, and detained in a federal prison.

There is a common misconception that anyone who has already been deported once will just be deported again, so it is not worth fighting. However, we refused to allow the system to run its course in deporting Julio again based upon his unjust prior deportation. 

One by one, we overcame each hurdle in Julio’s case. We first carefully documented all of the errors in his case and successfully convinced the supervising attorney for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to join in a motion to reopen Julio’s old immigration case. With the agreement of DHS, we then reopened Julio’s immigration case before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The reopening of the case allowed Julio’s federal public defender to get the reentry charges dismissed, and we also convinced DHS to release Julio from custody.

While working to reopen the immigration case, we simultaneously filed a plea withdrawal in criminal court and vacated Julio’s prior conviction based upon the errors made by his criminal defense attorney. We also redid the criminal case to achieve an outcome that would not render Julio deportable again.

Julio’s case then went back to the Immigration Judge, but the Immigration Judge presented a new hurdle by deciding that the case was improperly reopened because Julio had already been deported to Mexico. We refused to take no for an answer and persuaded the Judge that reopening was proper. 

We then overcame one final hurdle when DHS lodged a new charge against Julio for allegedly reentering the United States without permission. However, we denied that charge on legal grounds and then convinced DHS to grant Julio cancellation of removal (a waiver). Thus, Julio’s lawful permanent resident status was restored.

One year later, Julio is legally living and working in the United States, caring for his family, and enjoying his grandchildren. He is now in the process of applying for citizenship.

*The client’s name has been changed and specific details excluded for confidentiality reasons.