Saturday, May 14, 2011

Losing In Court, But Winning The PR Battle (Connecticut Law Tribune)

Losing In Court, But Winning The PR Battle
Lawyer describes young client’s efforts to avoid deportation

Monday, May 16, 2011

The case has been in all the newspapers and flashed across television. A Hartford community college student, just a month away from graduation, was about to be booted out of the country before key politicians took up his cause and won him a reprieve.

Mariano Cardoso Jr. didn’t go it alone, though.

His lawyer, Anthony D. Collins, largely known in immigration law circles as an expert in deportation and removal hearings, did all he could do to make sure Cardoso wasn’t sent away.

Cardoso may have been born in Mexico, but has lived in the United States, specifically New Britain, since he was 22 months old. His problems began two years ago, when he and his father were nabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a relative’s barbecue while the agents were searching for another man who had an outstanding order of deportation.

That other man was never found. He had already fled the country. But ICE officials detained Mariano and his father, Mariano Cardoso Sr., for two weeks before they were able to post bond. At that point, they believed their days in America were numbered. For many of Collins’ clients, that is how the story tends to go.

“Mariano had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Collins, of Collins & Martin P.C. in Wethersfield. “I think Mariano symbolizes how dysfunctional the immigration system is right now.”

The father and son were facing deportation as undocumented immigrants despite, by all accounts, living productive lives in America. Mariano is a student; his father works as a landscaper. Collins describes both as very hard-working.

Educated in Connecticut schools, the younger Cardoso worried about how he would ever adjust in Mexico. Collins said the normally upbeat, Mariano was “frightened” at the prospects of having to leave his family, which included his mother and two younger siblings born in the U.S.

Collins was hired by the Cardosos to try to find a way to keep the family together in New Britain. He went to federal immigration court seeking an order called a cancellation of removal. “Their only defense to deportation was their length of residence here,” said Collins.

To qualify for cancellation of removal, an immigrant must prove that he has lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years, display good moral character, and show that his deportation would cause a spouse, parent or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident “exceptional or unusual hardship.”

Hartford immigration Judge Michael Straus ruled against the senior Cardoso, and then ruled against his son. Collins said that’s par for the course in such cases. “Just by its wording, it’s meant to be difficult” to win a cancellation of removal, said Collins.

“It’s frustrating in the sense that, why did they make this so hard for people?” asked Collins. “’Unusual hardship of a qualifying relative.’ What does that mean? Why can’t it be, ‘What have you contributed to society here?’ If you’ve done good things, you can stay.’

“If that were the case,” continued Collins. “Mariano would be an outstanding case and be able to show what he’s accomplished at a young age.”

But, at very least, the lengthy court battle bought the Cardosos a couple more years in the U.S. Things looked bad, however, when their appeal was shot down three months ago.

Going Public

After a courtroom battle, Collins encouraged Mariano to try one last tactic – to go public with his story. “I didn’t expect him to attract as much attention as he did,” said Collins. “He did a tremendous job in doing this because he was risking being detained by immigration and deported.”

Collins said he personally is not all that great at being a publicity hound. But, he said, Mariano got guidance from classmates and immigration rights groups on how to spread the word of his impending deportation. “He was totally on his own in terms of generating that publicity,” said Collins. “It was fascinating how this guy was able to generate this interest. I give him all the credit.”

However, one other piece of advice from Collins may have made all the difference. He advised Mariano to call U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Once the Conn. Democrat became aware of Mariano’s desperate circumstances, he used his political influence to help out. Then Gov. Dannel Malloy got involved, writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship & Immigration Services asking officials to grant deferred action on the enforcement of Mariano’s deportation order.

Collins remained on the politicians speed dial until the matter was finally resolved. Within days, the lawyer said, immigration officials worked with Blumenthal and granted Mariano a year-long stay of removal that he expects will be renewed annually.

“For all intents and purposes, Mariano is American,” Malloy said in his letter. “To send him back to a country he has no recollection of and did not grow up in makes little sense, particularly as he is finishing his degree and looking to contribute to his community and this state.”

“He’s the perfect example, almost the poster child, for why we need the DREAM Act,” Blumenthal said publicly late last month.

The DREAM Act, or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, would provide some illegal immigrants a path to legal status as long as they enrolled in college or joined the military, but it has failed several times in Congress, most recently in December. The government does grant exemptions, as now for Mariano, but Collins said ICE hands them out erratically.

Collins said opponents of the legislation worry that it’s a reward to parents who entered the country illegally and could encourage further illegal immigration.

Though the college or military service aspect of the proposed bill wouldn’t help Mariano’s father, Blumenthal has told Collins he is attempting to also get a stay of removal for the older Cardosa.

In the end, Collins was happy to see backroom politics prevail in a matter where, he believes, the immigration courtroom failed a productive member of society like Mariano.

Meanwhile, when Blumenthal called Mariano to tell him the good news, the teen told the senator he had to get to class. Though happy, he remains concerned about his father’s immigration status, especially since the father’s landscaper’s salary helps pay for Mariano’s tuition at Capitol Community College in Hartford.

Mariano will graduate this month after all and is considering whether to pursue a four-year degree, his lawyer said. For now, he wants to be an engineer. “They’re hard working, very productive people,” Collins said of the Cardosos. “They’ve never been a burden on society whatsoever. They’ve been an asset and have tried to live the American dream.”

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