Cecilia Gomez went to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Las Vegas with excitement on March 27. She was on the last steps to getting her Green Card, making her a legal permanent resident.
Cecilia is the mother of three boys, the oldest of whom turned 21 last year, and was sponsoring his mother’s legal status.
But things didn’t turn out as planned. Cecilia was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and quickly put on a bus for deportation. ICE said she had a deportation order from 20 years before. She knew nothing about it.
“We thought this was literally the last step of getting her green card,” Gomez's son Jonathan told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Jonathan said during their preparation for the interview he had read sponsors are allowed to go with petitioners into the interview, but when the Citizenship and Immigration Sevices agent didn't call him back to the room, he knew there was a problem.
“Right from that moment, I had a gut feeling that something was off,” he said.
After ICE took his mother away, the agent asked Jonathan to come back to the office. All Jonathan saw on the desk was a computer and his mother's purse. He said it was shocking to see her purse without her.
“We had absolutely no idea that this was a possibility,” he said.
The USCIS agent told Jonathan to "get a good lawyer." That is when he contacted Laura Barerra, an attorney at Boyd Law School’s immigration law clinic.
Barerra said the deportation notice for Gomez was part of a notario fraud case connected to a family member. The paperwork in that case listed Gomez, which signaled to authorities that she was undocumented.
However, the notice to appear in the deportation case was sent to an address that not only wasn't where Gomez lived, it wasn't even a home. It was a donut shop.
Barerra said that is important to the case.
“That was the thing that mattered legally is that she was never given notice of hearing,” she said.
Barerra was able to stop the deportation before Gomez was taken across the border.
Now, the order of removal has been rescinded, which means Gomez can start again to apply for permanent residency, but her case has become more complicated.
Instead of going back to USCIS, she has to go to court. If she loses the case, she could be deported - again.
Her case has another layer of complication. She has accused ICE agents of assaulting her while in custody because she refused to sign a document until she had read it.
“She didn’t do anything to warrant that assault besides trying to read a piece of paper first before signing it," her son said, "Apparently that’s met with brute force."
Barerra said her office will be pursuing that part of the case but it won't be part of Gomez's immigration hearing.
Laura Barerra, attorney, Boyd Law School Immigration Law Clinic.
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