Boston, MA. Nixon Peabody LLP and the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project (PDHRP) at Boston College won a major legal victory after an eight-year legal struggle to overturn the erroneous deportation of a legal permanent resident who had been deported more than a dozen years ago. The client had legally immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras in 1993 as a ten-year-old boy, but was deported back to Honduras in 2005 based on a mistaken interpretation of the removal statute. With this legal victory, he has now been restored to his status as a lawful permanent resident and can resume his life with his family in the United States.
The client was convicted of a simple controlled substance possession charge under Louisiana state law in 2002. He served probation and paid a fine, and obtained a first offender pardon. Shortly before receiving that pardon, he was arrested at his home by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and put in removal proceedings. During his immigration detention he was moved to five detention centers in as many months and his immigration paperwork was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Deemed removable as an “aggravated felon” by a Louisiana immigration judge on account of his possession charge, and informed by his then-counsel that there was no basis for an appeal, the client was deported to Honduras in 2005.
Years after his deportation, always hoping to find a way back home, the client was searching online late in 2010 when he read about a Supreme Court decision, Lopez v. Gonzales, which held that a simple drug possession conviction was not an “aggravated felony” under the immigration statutes. Sensing that this case might help him return to the U.S., he reached out to the PDHRP.
PDHRP contacted Nixon Peabody and sought to partner with its attorneys to attempt to reopen the client’s immigration proceedings. After a long and complex ordeal of motion practice and oral argument before several immigration judges, a number of panels of the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the team successfully reopened the client’s immigration proceedings. Earlier this year, the team secured the client’s return to the United States into immigration detention so he could have his day in court before an immigration judge applying the proper legal standard.
After six weeks in detention, a team of PDHRP and Nixon Peabody attorneys traveled to Louisiana for the client’s individual hearing. They presented an extensive submission to the court noting the discretionary factors the client had met to warrant cancellation of removal. These included extreme economic hardship he faced in Honduras, the threats to the client and his family from rampant crime and political instability, the hardship to his U.S. family of having their son and brother in Honduras for thirteen years, and the exemplary life the client had lived under most difficult circumstances since he was deported.
On May 7, 2018, the immigration judge granted cancellation of removal. The government waived its right to appeal, and the client was released to his family that evening, with his rights as a legal permanent resident fully restored.
“While there are still some unresolved legal issues, this case illustrates that post-deportation victories are indeed possible with hard work, persistence and innovative legal strategies,” said Boston College professor of law Daniel Kanstroom, co-founder and co-director of the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project (PDHRP) of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College. As the client put it movingly, “I will finally be able to fulfill my dreams in this beautiful country. I am beyond extremely grateful with you all, you just saved my life and family.”
The legal team overseeing this case was led by Daniel Kanstroom and PDHRP’s Supervising Attorney Heather Friedman and Nixon Peabody attorneys Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero and Brianna Nassif, with assistance from the law clinics at Loyola University New Orleans and University of Houston Law Center as well as experts from Millersville University and Wellesley College and Louisiana local counsel Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC.
Based at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College, PDHRP was founded to address the harsh effects of U.S. deportation policies. The Project aims to conceptualize a new area of law, promoting the rights of deportees and their family members through research, policy analysis, human rights advocacy and training programs. The ultimate aim of the Project is to advocate, in collaboration with affected families and communities, for fundamental changes that will introduce proportionality, compassion and respect for family unity into U.S. immigration laws and bring these laws into compliance with international human rights standards.