A man who was deported from the United States more than 15 years ago for committing a crime related to money laundering could return to the country on Thursday, in a complex case that has its roots in a controversial 1996 immigration law known as IIRIRA.
The man of Chilean origin - whose lawyers asked not to publish the name due to security concerns - was a legal resident of the United States when in 1992 he pleaded guilty to an aggravated felony, in a case of money laundering from drug trafficking. His role in the case did not involve trafficking in drugs, but accounting for illicit business.
After serving five years in a federal prison, the Chilean would have qualified for a pardon and the opportunity to remain in the United States.
But his case developed just in the midst of confusion over the implementation of a law passed by Congress in 1996, called Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility (IIRIRA), by which every legal or illegal resident who commits a crime in the country he must be repatriated after serving his sentence.
The law began to be implemented by the immigration authorities in 1997, just the year in which this immigrant was released, and the man was deported, leaving behind his wife and children.
"This was a very complicated case because no one knew exactly what to do," said immigration attorney Mario Urizar, of attorney Eduardo Soto's law firm in Coral Gables. "We had to be very clever but we finally managed to bring him home with his family, even though the fight continues."
The case highlights the complexities that have stood out for the US immigration system for years, even for immigrants with legal status in the country. It could also draw the attention of activists who defend immigrants, and who have spent years fighting for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, including provisions that facilitate family reunification.
"This is a very exclusive case, a very special exception to the norm. It is no secret to anyone that we are in the midst of a historic crisis of arrests and deportations, and more than 80 percent of those detained by immigration do not have access to legal representation or many lose their right to due process for lack of a lawyer "Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said Friday.
Rodriguez added that the deportations relief recently granted by President Barack Obama left out millions of people.
"Despite Obama's relief, there are still more than 6 million people in an immigration limbo and the detention centers are still full of cases of people being separated from their families just for driving without a license or for having re-entered the country to meet with their families, "he said.
Before 1997, legal immigrants who committed serious crimes could apply to an immigration court to temporarily suspend their deportation orders if they applied certain mitigating factors, such as evidence that they had been rehabilitated, that they had lived in the country for a long time or the negative impact that a deportation would have on the family they left behind. The IIRIRA approval eliminated those options and the immigration courts began to apply the new law to cases that reached the courts before 1996.
"This could not be done because the laws are not retroactive, but back then there was too much confusion," Urizar said.
In 2001 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that immigrants who were convicted of crimes under plea agreements before 1997 should not be deported under the new law. The immigration courts had to analyze whether these immigrants qualified for a pardon - in half of the cases those pardons had been granted, before the implementation of IIRIRA.
But for the Chilean immigrant, who had already been deported, it was too late.
When he filed an appeal with a lawyer about his case, an immigration judge dismissed it, claiming that he was already out of his jurisdiction.
What followed were years of travel to third countries to be able to see his wife and children in a way that would be cheaper. According to the lawyers, his client reformed his life and got an honest job in his country, while watching his grandchildren grow through video calls.
In 2014, Urizar and Soto agreed to try to reopen the case, and again filed an appeal. To her surprise, the same judge who 13 years ago dismissed the case, this time agreed to review it again.
"She acknowledged that with this man she made a mistake, and gave her another chance," Urizar said.
Attorney Eduardo Soto said he has carried out at least four other cases in which the immigrants who were deported have managed to return to the count
"This shows that even individuals who have been physically deported from the US continue to have their rights in this country," Soto said.
But your client still has battles to fight. His current status in the United States is not clear, since his permanent green card or "green card" expired several years ago. On Thursday he entered the country on parole, and his immigration case is pending.
"Essentially he returned to the same situation as 16 years ago, and understands that this is an opportunity," said Urizar, who worked for months with agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Police to find a way for his client to enter the country. . "But the most important thing is that for the first time in a long time he will be able to see his whole family in the same room".