Maribel’s case: What options do immigrants have to become legal?

In the week since most people have learned about Maribel Trujillo Diaz, the Fairfield mother of four children facing deportation back to Mexico, many have asked themselves or others: "Why didn't she just try to become an American citizen when she arrived in this country in 2002?"

Area lawyers specializing in immigration issues told the Journal-News it’s not that simple, especially for lower-income people like Trujillo.

One of the non-profit lawyers representing the mother of 4 American-born children ages 3 through 14, said immigrants who don’t have specialized work skills desired by companies here have few options coming to America.

“The way that immigration law is written, it’s not like everybody can just get in a line and have equal access to the ability to come to the U.S.,” said attorney Emily Brown, of the non-profit organization Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE). “So for someone who’s from Mexico, like (Trujillo) is, there are just very few avenues to be able to get to the United States.”

“And once she’s here, then, going back to Mexico and waiting, there’s not really a way for her to get back into the country,” Brown said.

“So essentially for her, there was no path,” Brown said. “I think a lot of people think, ‘Well, anybody can apply to become a citizen,’ but she doesn’t have the right sort-of legal case, other than filing for asylum, which we have done, and we are continuing to pursue that case.”

Trujillo unsuccessfully argued before the Board of Immigration Appeals for about seven years she should receive asylum because her brother was threatened and kidnapped in Mexico after he wouldn’t participate with drug organizations.

Her 14-year-old son, Oswaldo, told the Journal-News last week that after his mother was detained he once asked why she came to America.

“She said, ‘To live a better life – something you can’t really do in Mexico,’” he said. “She said the risk was worth taking, because not only she gets a better life, and her husband — my dad — but her kids will get a better life, and our kids will get a better life.”

“If she wouldn’t have moved to America, I would be living in Mexico right now, because when she moved to America, she was pregnant with me,” he said.

“Because of her and her choice, I get to live this life of living as an American citizen, which most people in every part of the world dream of,” Oswaldo said. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but most American citizens don’t appreciate or think what luxury it is to live as a citizen of this great country.”

The first time immigration agents learned about Maribel Trujillo, Brown said, was during a 2007 alien-employment raid at Koch Foods. Rather than prosecuting her, they began deportation proceedings, her asylum case delayed. That case concluded May 20, 2014, when the Board of Immigration Appeals issued her a “final order of removal.”

But like many immigrants without criminal records, she was allowed to report to immigration agents every six months and was granted work permits, including one into this summer. But after President Donald Trump took office, she was fitted with a global-positioning-system ankle bracelet and told to report back monthly. She was detained last week near the Fairfield trailer park where she lives.

Brown and others at ABLE tried this week to appeal the 2004 decision against amnesty — arguing Trujillo only recently learned other family members, including her father, had been threatened and harmed by drug cartels and she could be targeted by them because it was known in her hometown she supported her brother in the United States they had targeted earlier.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected this week’s appeal of the case that ended in May of 2014, saying she had failed to appeal within 30 days.

Trujillo, who since last week was detained in jails in Butler County, Morrow County and now in Louisiana, is scheduled to be deported Wednesday. Her family, numerous churches, and the archdioceses of Cincinnati and New Orleans, are hoping the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will release the woman who volunteers as a lector at St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton. Short of that, supporters hope immigration officials let her 3-year-old daughter, who has serious medical issues, accompany her to Mexico.

“Think about it this way,” said Deerfield Twp.-based attorney Mitchell Allen, who has a general practice but spends about 30 percent of his time on immigration matters: “The visa that you get is the key to get into the United States. If you don’t have the key — if you don’t have a visa of some description — then basically you’re illegally in the United States: You have no right to be here. So since you have no right to be here, all of these remedies that people think may exist, don’t exist.”

There are other ways to get into the country for some people.

For a highly skilled worker, perhaps with a doctoral degree in engineering, a U.S. company could bring them in through an H1B visa process. Trujillo was not a skilled worker, and the number of H1Bs issued in this country usually “are taken up within the first five or six days that they are available,” Allen said.

Companies also can transfer such skilled employees internationally within their businesses.

It’s also possible, but extremely difficult, to allow unskilled workers for jobs that Americans won’t perform for the pay, Allen said.

In some Southeastern states, logging companies have picked the illegal option of paying non-citizen loggers wages that are extravagant compared with what they would earn in their home countries, but below prevailing wages for Americans. A big, illegal, advantage to those companies was they didn’t pay worker’s compensation for employees, letting them avoid significant costs the businesses would have had to pay Americans, Allen said.

Here’s a way well-to-do people can enter America: If they’re wealthy enough to invest in the country, they can use investor visas.

There’s another way citizens can get close family into the United States from other countries, but they can take a decade or more: American citizens can petition to have their minor children, spouses, parents and siblings allowed in the country to become citizens, but even those processes can take years.

Compounding the difficulty for would-be legal immigrants: For centuries the country has legally been placing ceilings on the numbers of people allowed in from various areas of the world.

Karen Denise Bradley, a Dayton immigration lawyer, says all people who “enters this country without being inspected and admitted are deport-able — they’re considered inadmissible, excludible, and they can be deported. That’s one aspect of it”

Also, “With this new administration (of President Trump), they now are seeking to enforce that part of this new executive order, to say anyone who is in this country who came in and was not inspected or admitted to be in this country can be picked up at any time.”

There are no other remedies, other than being granted a stay by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or some other part of the government, such as John F. Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, or Trump himself. This week, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wrote a letter urging help for Trujillo.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, also have contacted federal officials on Trujillo’s behalf. The Archdiocese of New Orleans also plans to pray and advocate for her.

Meanwhile, area churches, advocacy groups and people are wondering whether prayer is their final option in keeping Maribel and others like her in the country. Still others, including State Rwp. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, say despite the possibility of families being torn apart, illegal immigrants brought deportation on themselves by arriving without permission.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump — who has taken varying positions on who should be prioritized for deportation — did not respond to questions about Trujillo’s case. Also not commenting was Kelly’s office at DHS.

Tony Stieritz, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Director of Catholic Social Action, on Thursday mulled the blending of work area Catholics were doing on Trujillo’s behalf, and the fact it was Holy Week for Christians.

“Whether it’s through a release of Maribel from detention and reunion with the family now or some other time of God’s will,” he said, “we always have hope in the Resurrection.”

Meanwhile, Allen has things for people to consider as they mull the case of Trujillo and her family.

“The immigration area of the law is extremely complex — in my view, needlessly complex,” Allen said. “We’ve made so many rules, you get the impression it’s a lot of things that have been bolted on again and again and again.”

The majority of immigration employees — whatever their perspectives — seem to believe the immigration system needs to be fixed, Allen said. And that’s complicated, because Americans have varying goals, and various immigration decisions will have impacts on the country’s economy, such as lowering, or raising, prices.

I think a lot of people don’t understand enough about the immigration process in the United States and the law, because it’s ridiculously complex,” Allen said. “And the way it interacts with our other laws is complex.”

Either way, “We’re going to have to answer this problem, and we need Congress to do something about it. But in the meantime, a lot of people are going to suffer, and probably this lady is one of those folks who’s going to be in that situation,” Allen said.

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