Immigration Lawyers Face Dilemma as Clients Are Detained at ICE Check-Ins

Immigration Lawyers Face Dilemma as Clients Are Detained at ICE Check-Ins
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On Wednesday, June 21, Cristina Rodriguez became the latest instance of someone in Colorado who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while reporting to a scheduled ICE check-in.

According to ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok, Rodriguez was deported to Mexico on Friday, June 23; her family and immigrant-rights advocates confirm that Rodriguez is now with an aunt in Juárez, Mexico — a country that she hasn't been to since she left for the U.S. when she was five years old. She leaves behind three U.S. citizen daughters in Colorado, all under four and a half years old. Rodriguez had been to other check-ins before she was detained and deported.

Since President Trump took office, ICE has signaled that it's prioritizing all undocumented immigrants — regardless of whether they have a felony background — for deportation. That was outlined in a Department of Homeland Security memo that was circulated in February. Since then, there have been multiple cases in Colorado like that of Rodriguez, who had a one-year stay of removal expire the day before her June 21 check-in, when she reported to the ICE field office in Centennial, hoping to learn if a request for another stay had been approved.

In April, two other Colorado mothers with children, Kensy Serrano and Maria de Jesus Jimenez-Sanchez, were also detained during ICE check-ins where they were seeking renewed stays of removal. And in February, Jeanette Vizguerra made international headlines when she was suspicious of being detained during her ICE check-in and elected to seek sanctuary in the basement of a church in Capitol Hill. (She was granted a stay of removal in May after private bills were introduced on her behalf in Washington, D.C., by Colorado legislators. She was also named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People.)

James Lamb, who was Rodriguez's immigration attorney, describes being in a tough position when it comes to advising clients like Rodriguez about whether they should report to scheduled ICE check-ins.

Lamb says he had put together a 150-page application for a renewed stay and had filed it with ICE on Friday, June 16, before Rodriguez's check-in. He says both he and his client knew the risks that she faced if she showed up at ICE's office in person.

“[ICE] very rarely tells you, prior to showing up, whether you have been approved [for a stay] or not,” he says. “So [Rodriguez] had to make the judgment call: ‘Am I going to become a fugitive, or am I going to show up?’…. She didn't want the uncertainty of being a fugitive, so she showed up knowing it was possible that she wouldn't be walking out.”

Jeanette Vizguerra leaves sanctuary after being granted a stay of removal in May. - CHRIS WALKER
Jeanette Vizguerra leaves sanctuary after being granted a stay of removal in May.
Chris Walker
Because there seems to be a trend of arrests happening during routine ICE check-ins, Lamb is having to walk a fine line as an attorney.

“We are not allowed to advise someone to violate the law,” he explains. “And there’s no doubt that not reporting to ICE, as ordered, is violating the law. So what we do is advise people about the consequences of their contemplated courses of action, including courses of action that are illegal.

“So I’ll say, ‘If you do the sanctuary option, here’s what the consequences could be. And if you choose to go to your check-in date [with ICE], here’s what your consequences could be. Ultimately, it’s your decision.’ And I’ll leave it at that,” he says.

ICE’s Rusnok says he can't supply Westword with the number of stay-of-removal cases in Colorado and/or the United States.

However, TRAC, an online database run by Syracuse University, cites 97,448 nationwide cases (confirmed and projected) in 2017 in which immigration judges have counteracted or will counteract an ICE removal request.

As the website notes, an immigration judge could determine that an individual may remain in the country for a variety of reasons. They include:

“Situations where the judge finds the charges against the individual are not sustained (or the government requests that the charges be dropped), as well as where the judge finds other provisions in the immigration law entitle the individual ‘relief’ from removal. A person also may be allowed to remain because the government requests that the case be administratively closed. These numbers include Immigration Court cases closed through the exercise of ICE’s prosecutorial discretion.”   

In a press release following Rodriguez’s deportation, the American Friends Service Committee called ICE’s practice of detaining immigrants during check-ins “silent raids.”

Rodriguez’s attorney, Lamb, is quoted as saying, “I, and my entire law firm, are deeply saddened to hear that ICE has deported Cristina. Our sympathies go out to her and her family, in particular her three U.S. citizen children. Cristina’s case is yet another tragedy wrought by our inhumane, broken immigration system.”
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker