When I was working for the Department of Homeland Security, I was representing the Government in removal proceedings every day. My caseload consisted of prosecuting criminals, those that engage marriage fraud, and an assortment of other cases. This was before ICE attorneys were given laptops to use in court and when 6-inch thick files had to be scrutinized and deciphered within the morning of a hearing without much notice. Fast forward 10 years. I have been in private practice and often am sitting across the courtroom aisle notating with envy how the Government attorneys access information about cases in court through a click of a button. This must be an example of how much the Government immigration mess has progressed right? Wrong.
This past week, I discovered, that even with all the technology, databases, and other improvements the Government agency has made for its attorneys, there is still a serious disconnect between USCIS and ICE, two agencies within the same Department of Homeland Security. Under current immigration policy, when a person is in removal proceedings, but is eligible to change their status to a green card holder and they are not an enforcement priority, a removal case can be basically stopped with the consensus of ICE attorneys, and sent from immigration court to the USCIS district office for adjudication. In the San Diego District, the Local District USCIS office requires that an Immigration Judge “terminate” proceedings for it to be able to assert jurisdiction over a matter for an adjustment of status. It will not take jurisdiction over an applicant’s case to adjust their status to permanent residence if the applicant’s removal case has only been “administratively closed.”
I have had a case in the Los Angeles Immigration Court since October 2014. I successfully reopened my client’s old deportation case, had her brought back into the United States. I asked the Court and ICE to terminate her case, under current policy, so that she could adjust her status through her United States Citizen husband. She has no crimes and no immigration issues, except for her previous removal order that was a result of notario fraud. The Immigration Judge asked ICE Counsel for their position. The Los Angeles ICE Attorney refused to terminate the case, and only offered to administratively close the case. I informed both the Immigration Judge and the ICE Attorney that an administrative closure would not work, because the client lives in San Diego’s jurisdiction and USCIS would refuse the case unless the Court terminated proceedings altogether. The Judge asked the ICE Attorney if that was true and his answer was “I don’t know.”
At this moment, I was no longer envious of the Government-issued laptop. I realized the technology advances were useless if the ICE Attorneys were not familiar with the different local USCIS policies and requirements. As a result, I believe foreign nationals will continue to be deprived of consistent rules and policies between different local districts. Unless a foreign national has a good attorney, they risk being forced by the Government or Courts to admit and concede things that they should not. They will not know that they can get out of court altogether and avoid potential removal.
After 3 hearings with no progress and a refusal to give in to the Government or Judge’s demands (because it was not in my clients interests) I decided to take on the role of educator and mediator in the hopes of getting my client’s case out of Los Angeles Immigration Court and into the local San Diego USCIS office where it belonged. I contacted Los Angeles ICE Attorney’s office to explain the situation thoroughly and even advised them as to who they could contact at USCIS San Diego to confirm what I was relaying was the case. The answer: “No, it requires too much bureaucratic red tape to get approvals to get an answer.” I then contacted San Diego ICE attorney that is the liaison to the local USCIS District to confirm that the local policy and asked them to contact Los Angeles ICE attorney’s to confirm it is necessary to terminate for USCIS San Diego to take jurisdiction. The answer: “No, we won’t tell another ICE attorney office what to do.” This is the type of frustrations we seasoned immigration lawyers deal with almost daily.
I ended up getting the matter out of the Los Angeles Immigration Court to San Diego finally. But I am still shocked at the disconnect between the ICE Government Attorneys understanding USCIS policies when they are responsible for administering the law consistently and righteously. I don’t believe it is a matter of bad faith, rather an example of big government and how sometimes logic and reason are lost.