In June 1989 a man and his wife, citizens of Argentina, entered the United States on visitor visas. Their short-term goal was to escape the riots, food shortages and hyperinflation which had brought about the complete economic and social collapse of their home country. After looking America over, the couple decided to stay despite the perils of being undocumented and subject to deportation proceedings at any time.
The couple spent many years living in the shadows and getting work where they could. After the first two years they had a daughter, who meant everything to them. The man eked out a living working for others, and finally decided to establish his own trucking business, despite all the difficulties his undocumented status put in his way.
In 2008 his world came crashing around down around him when he was taken into custody as an undocumented alien, and placed into "removal proceedings" in Elizabeth Immigration Court. At the time his daughter was a junior in high school who was literally at the top of her class, and being actively courted for scholarships at some of the top universities in the United States. All this was now at risk because the man was the daughter's sole source of support. His wife had developed a chronic illness that prevented her from working.
Immigration law provides a remedy for undocumented aliens in situations such as this called "cancellation of removal." The alien must show that he has been continuously present in the United States for 10 years; that he has been a person of good moral character during such period; that he has no convictions for "crimes involving moral turpitude" (CIMT's); that he has a qualifying "immediate relative," – a US citizen or permanent resident parent, spouse, or child under 21 – and that the alien's removal would, in the words of the statute, "result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to the immediate relative. In this case the challenge was to show such harm to the man's daughter. The harm had to be shown whether she stayed in the United States or accompanied her father back to Argentina.
I was retained to represent the man and present his defense to removal. If we lost, he would be deported. If we won, he would obtain permanent residency by court order. It was my first such case, and I left no stone unturned because of what was at stake. I am happy to say that we won.
I can't say the life was a bed of roses for the man and his family after he became a permanent resident, because 2008 was the same year America experienced a traumatic crash and near depression in its economy. But at least the man lived without the daily fear of being deported. After his daughter turned 21 his wife became a permanent resident also, because after reaching this age the daughter the child was legally eligible to sponsor her mother for permanent residency.
This past month, over 27 years after the man first entered the United States as a visitor in 1989, I had the opportunity to represent him again in his naturalization application. The interview went well and he is now a citizen of the United States.
For me, helping change people's lives for the better in this way, is what being an immigration lawyer is all about.