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Statutes of Liberty: Just Another Disastrous Day in the U.S. Immigration System

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

All too often, there are two kinds of law in this country — procedurally fair law for those who can afford it, and Kafka for those who can’t.

If you’re Felicity Huffman, you get fourteen days in prison for a federal felony and a New York Times story describing you as “by turns cheerful and stoic.” If you aren’t, your treatment won’t be as felicitous, and you won’t make the Times. This week, we want to share one of those stories with you.

Meet Mr. M., a gentleman who has been living in the United States since the 1990s.

Mr. M. has been living in the United States for most of this time under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. You may remember reading about the TPS program in one of our previous articles. Mr. M. has five U.S. citizen children, ranging from ages three to 17. He is a homeowner and has been working for the same construction company for more than ten years.

In August 2019, his wife of fifteen years passed away. Mr. M. wanted to take his children to their home country to visit family. Based on his TPS status, Mr. M. applied for advance parole, or a travel permit, so that he could temporarily leave the United States and return with TPS. Note that applying for advance parole is completely legal: Mr. M. was following the rules.

Unfortunately, Mr. M. applied for advance parole with what is commonly referred to as a notario. Notarios are people who pretend to be lawyers and help immigrants file immigration paperwork. Pretending to be a lawyer is a crime.

Mr. M’s notario completed the paperwork for Mr. M’s travel permit and shipped it off. Unfortunately, due to the notario’s negligence, Mr. M’s original travel document was sent to the wrong address.

Mr. M. knew that his advance parole document had been approved, but he couldn’t find the original. Because he had worked with a notario rather than a real lawyer, Mr. M. had no legal recourse. But Mr. M. was resourceful, and tried to fix things on his own — he went to a local U.S. Department of Homeland Security office to ask how he could get his approved travel permit.

This, by the way, is where things really went off the rails.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security official printed a copy of the approved travel permit from their internal system. The employee gave it to Mr. M. and told him he could travel with the copy.  “It will be fine,” they said.

It was not going to be fine.

Mr. M. travelled to El Salvador with his children. At the end of their trip, he returned to the airport with his children and was barred from boarding the plane because you need an original Advance Parole document to return to the United States. (The stated reason for this requirement: security requires the original piece of greenish paper.)

Panic ensued. Mr. M’s family came to our office to see if we could help fix the problem.

We helped Mr. M. apply for a different type of travel permit. Four months later — that’s four months separated from his five US citizen children — the new travel permit was approved, but, in order to actually board a plane back to the U.S., Mr. M. had to attend an interview at the US Embassy.

He did. (In fairness, we have to say that the State Department behaved impeccably.) The embassy gave him his travel permit, which is a boarding foil in his passport. It will expire this first week of April.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 hit, and El Salvador is not letting anyone leave or enter. Mr. M. remains stranded, separated from his family.

This tragedy didn’t have to happen, Mr. M. should have relied on a licensed attorney. DHS shouldn’t have “helpfully” given him a useless copy of the travel permit. But these explicit mistakes are just part of the picture. It took four months to get a new travel permit, even with competent legal advice. There was no better way to do it.

As always, we also welcome any comments and will do our best to respond.

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