Undocumented immigrants with old crimes and deportation orders may still be able to remain in the United States. They just need to seek the right kind of help, immigrant rights attorneys say.
“This is not the time to be on your own,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides services across Southern California.
Receiving legal consultation, though it may be costly, is necessary, Cabrera added.
Unauthorized immigrants with deportation orders could qualify for some sort of immigration relief, and those with prior crimes may be able to have a criminal conviction vacated to avoid immigration consequences.
And attorneys can help navigate these scenarios.
Hadley Bajramovic, an immigration attorney serving the Mexican and Guatemalan consulates in San Bernardino, said her office has been dealing with immigrants under these circumstances.
A California law that took effect January could help undocumented immigrants with previous crimes, Bajramovic noted.
In immigration cases, it allows people who are no longer in jail or prison to file a motion to vacate their criminal convictions.
For example, a conviction or sentence can be legally invalid if, due to poor legal representation, a defendant did not fully understand the immigration consequences of accepting a guilty plea, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national nonprofit agency that co-sponsored this law.
A conviction also can be vacated if new evidence emerges that proves a person’s innocence.
Bajramovic said her office filed a motion about three weeks ago and found the judge was not yet familiar with this new law.
“It is very, very new and it’s going to develop quickly, given that more people are going to go into removal proceedings,” she said.
Recently released Department of Homeland Security memos spell out that any immigrant living in the U.S. illegally who has been charged or convicted of any crime, or even suspected of committing a crime, is now an enforcement priority.
This could include people arrested for shoplifting or minor traffic offenses.
Anti-illegal-immigration activists are applauding the Trump administration’s new guidelines on enforcing immigration laws. The way they see it, if immigrants came to the U.S. illegally, that is reason enough to be deported.
In cities across the U.S., an Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation recently led to the arrests of “criminal aliens,” who were convicted of crimes including homicide, sex abuse, drug trafficking, assault, driving under the influence and weapons charges, the agency said.
However, Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, has said there are likely many people arrested in the raids who committed non-violent crimes years ago, already paid their time in jail and have re-established their lives.
High-profile immigration cases, such as the deportation of an Arizona woman who had regularly checked in with U.S. immigration officials, are also causing alarm among undocumented immigrants under supervision orders.
Unauthorized immigrants are typically under supervision orders while awaiting a court hearing or final deportation order. It’s a way for ICE to keep tabs on them. During this time, immigrants must check in with the federal immigration agency.
Some immigrants worry that showing up to their scheduled appointment is just too risky.
Bajramovic, however, advises immigrants to continue with their scheduled meetings with ICE.
“Once an individual stops cooperating with ICE, then it gets very difficult to help that individual,” Bajramovic said.
If for some reason, an immigration official decides the person should be deported, then he or she has the right to ask to speak with the consulate. An attorney can negotiate with the agency to allow an immigrant to stay in the U.S. a bit longer, Bajramovic said.
For immigrants with removal orders, Bajramovic said there are possibilities to reopen their cases. Attorneys can make a case for asylum, for example.
“If they don’t cooperate, if they don’t show up to their scheduled appointment, then ICE is going to go into the field and find them,” she added.
Community organizers also say they are ready to support immigrants checking in with federal immigration officials.
Javier Hernandez, director for the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said members are keeping in touch with families checking in with the federal agency.
In New Jersey, for example, a number of faith leaders recently rallied outside a federal building in support a Mexican immigrant checking in with immigration officials. He was temporarily spared deportation and was told to report back late May, according to news reports.
“We are willing and ready to activate community support for families that may face deportation or detention when checking in with ICE,” Hernandez said.