Last Friday was a big day at the Hacking Immigration Law. One of our favorite clients became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. You might ask, well why was this naturalization ceremony so special?
Our client, Karen (*not her real name*) had lived in the United States for nearly 12 years. She had obtained lawful permanent residence ("LPR") based on her marriage to a prior spouse. She had a son from that prior marriage and her son was a U.S. citizen. Since becoming an LPR and a mom, Karen had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. She hired a criminal defense attorney who proposed that Karen plead guilty to the drug charges with probation and a suspended imposition of a jail sentence. The criminal defense attorney told Karen that there would be no immigration consequences from the plea.
Imagine Karen's surprise when, several months after the plea, her probation officer told Karen that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were planning on picking her up and placing her in removal proceedings. This is when Karen first approached the Hacking Immigration Law about representing her in the removal/deportation proceedings. Luckily, we were able to negotiate a voluntary surrender by Karen to ICE officials a few days later. This gave us time to gather documents demonstrating Karen's strong ties to the community, her parenting and the bad advice her prior criminal defense attorney had given her.
We immediately went to work on the underlying criminal proceedings. We filed a motion to reopen with the Court, arguing that Karen's prior attorney had provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to provide her with accurate immigration advice regarding the plea. This was before the Supreme Court's later holding in Padilla v. Kentucky, which held that a criminal defendant like Karen should be allowed to reopen a conviction when the defense attorney failed to provide accurate information regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. But with the help of a compassionate prosecutor, we successfully "undid" the prior guilty plea and had Karen's conviction set aside.
We then forwarded the vacated conviction to the immigration court. At that point, Immigration Judge Agnelis Reese terminated removal proceedings and our client was freed after spending several months in jail away from her children.
Fast forward two years. Our client is doing great taking care of her son and daughter. She has remarried and we applied for naturalization a while back. Karen was naturalized last Friday and we could not be happier for her.