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Sierra Leone Citizen Granted US Asylum

The client is a citizen of Sierra Leone who entered the United States as a asylee (a person granted asylum) in 1999 and who was granted lawful permanent resident status in 2005. The client was granted "cancellation of removal" in Newark Immigration Court on June 15, 2017, following completion of a sentence of five years in New Jersey State Prison for unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm.


As a youngster in Sierra Leone the client witnessed horrible violence against others during the terrible civil war in that country. These experiences resulted in him suffering a severe case of PTSD and other mental-health impairments that are more or less permanent, but for which he is getting treatment. In 2010 the client was arrested for unlawful possession of the handgun (which he had purchased the day before to "protect himself"). He was sentenced to five years in New Jersey state prison under NJ's strict statute against unlawful possession of unregistered firearms.


The client had the defense of removal known as "cancellation of removal" for lawful personal residents, whose requirements are: (1) that the client be an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than five years; (2) that the client has resided in the United States continuously for seven years after having been admitted in any status; (3) that the client has not been convicted of any "aggravated felony" as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA); and (4) that on balance the immigration judge concludes that the client deserves a second chance after considering conditions in his home country, his "equities in the United States" and the likelihood that he will repeat past criminal conduct. INA Section 240A.


In this case we were able to show that the client merited relief. Conditions in Sierra Leone remain extremely dangerous due to volatile politics, even though the civil war ended many years ago. We were able to obtain a neuropsych evaluation of the client which showed that his concerns about returning to Sierra Leone where aggravated by his PTSD condition. The neuropsych evaluation also provided a reasonable explanation for his possession of the unlawful handgun to begin with, since it showed that the client's fears of past experiences in his home country together with his PTSD were the primary motivations for his purchasing an unregistered handgun. Finally, the client had strong "equities in the United States," because both his mother and his two sisters were here as naturalized citizens, and he had the family and mental health support network necessary to have his conditions treated in future.


Two things are worth noting. If the client had been undocumented, his criminal possession of an unregistered firearm would have been an "aggravated felony" under the INA and he would' have been ineligible for any relief. Second, the remedy of cancellation of removal for a permanent resident is a one time "get out of jail free" card so far as relief from removal is concerned. Any further conviction of removable offenses could result in the client being deported with no defense.

It is always a satisfying day when one can give a deserving individual a second chance in America. This was one of them for me.

Brian D. O'Neill Attorney at Law, LLC

Immigration, Employment and Business Law

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