Finding home: UM soccer coach’s journey to U.S. citizenship

October 24, 2019Shahid Haque

We recently spoke with Dante Filpula Ankney of the Montana Kaimin about UM soccer coach Chris Citowicki’s immigration journey.

Citowicki’s application to become a citizen did not come without hardships, but it was comparably easier than what other immigrants have experienced in the United States.

Obtaining citizenship has become harder for all immigrants under President Trump and his administration, according to Shahid Haque, an immigration lawyer and founder of Border Crossing Law Firm in Helena.

In fact, during President Trump’s first year in office, there was an increase of petitions filed to become citizens, but the number of people who were actually granted citizenship decreased by more than 40,000, according to the 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

At the same time, the number of deportations by ICE increased by over 15,000, according to the 2017 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report.

Also in Trump’s first year in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be repealed, and President Trump instituted an executive order that stopped travel to the U.S. for six Muslim majority countries, as well as all refugees for 120 days.

“You are facing an agency that is looking to deny your case if they can,” Haque said, “and are happy to deny your case if they can.”

According to Haque, marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the easier pathways to attain a green card and become a U.S. citizen. However, applicants are put through interviews that scrutinize the legitimacy of the marriage throughout the process.

When the interview finally took place, he and his wife were separated into different rooms. Citowicki recalls being nervous and unsure of the birth dates of his wife and two kids.

“Oh, my God I hope our answers match on each side,” Citowicki said.

Both Citowicki and his wife agreed that waiting for the green card approval was the most stressful part of becoming a citizen. Those seeking citizenship must have a green card for five years prior to the citizenship process, according to Haque.

After having a green card for more than five years and meeting all other qualifications, it should take 10 1/2 to 16 1/2 months at Helena to become a citizen after filing your paperwork according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Citowicki had renewed his green card once before and would have had to renew it again in 2022 if he didn’t become a citizen. Luckily, he did.

Many immigrants today have trouble obtaining a green card to set themselves up to become a citizen. According to Haque, it is not easy for immigrants to attain citizenship in the U.S. right now, and it’s even harder for refugees.

Refugees are people seeking asylum in another country because they have been displaced by possible persecution, war, or natural disaster in their own country. They have to register with the U.N. outside of their country to become a refugee, according to Soft Landing Missoula’s website.

According to Haque, it is difficult to prove that you are even a refugee in order to seek asylum, let alone start the process to become a permanent resident after you are given asylum.

Immigrants are like Citowicki: people choosing to enter a country on their own accords. They enter the U.S. through a visa that defines the amount of time you are allowed to stay.

Visas, green cards and citizenship all result in a lot of paperwork and headaches for applicants. One small misstep, one missing document, and your case could be denied. That is why, Haque said, an attorney is helpful, though not necessary.

Citowicki said he and his wife spent $5,000 to $6,000 on attorney fees to become a citizen, most of which was spent in the process of getting a green card.

In the end, from taking the first step at an Ontario, California Airport to the ceremony at Great Falls, Citowicki’s process to becoming a citizen took a year and a half.

His personal views on immigration are molded from his experiences growing up — living in a refugee camp as a child, bouncing around the world to find a home.

“People need to be given opportunities to start their lives again if they are coming from a place that isn’t treating them well,” Citowicki said, “and America gives you the opportunity to do that. It’s what this country has been doing forever.”

Please check out the whole article here.

Article: Congress looks to remove ‘illegal alien’ from federal use

October 23, 2019Shahid Haque

From Samantha Hawkins, Capital News Service

The word cloud above highlights which words Trump most frequently says around his use of the word “alien,” based on an analysis by Capital News Service.

WASHINGTON – Just three years ago, the words “oriental” and “negro” were removed from federal laws and regulations, after a bill to ban the offensive words unanimously passed Congress.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, pushed the legislation through, under the premise that words matter, and can cause harm and division.

Another attempt to change the federal government’s vocabulary is underway, but unlike its predecessor in 2016, the bill seems far less likely to fly through Congress.

The term proposed for the chopping block is “illegal alien,” under legislation sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.

The phrase refers to noncitizens who are in the country without proper authorization, and fell mostly out of use with politicians until last year, when President Donald Trump amped up his use of the term to refer to all authorized immigrants.

We spoke to the Capital News Service about our thoughts on the term, which we first shared over a decade ago:

In April 2013, the Associated Press revised its guidelines to abandon “alien” and “illegal alien” in news stories and instead encouraged journalists to specify how someone entered the country and from where.

For example, an unauthorized immigrant may have been brought to the United States against their will, such as a victim of sex trafficking. Some might have come under “temporary protected status” because of turmoil in their home country, and the government later removed their protected status. And it’s estimated that about half of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. came here legally, but overstayed their visas.

“The term is a problem because you would think if someone is an illegal alien, that means they are all in the same boat,” Shahid Haque, an immigration lawyer in Montana, said, adding that “illegal alien” is overly simplistic and legally inaccurate. He also said the word can do a lot of harm in the way immigrants are treated.

“It allows characterization of a large group of people to be less entitled to compassion or dignity,” Haque said. “It allows people to dehumanize the immigrants themselves and cast their entire existence as illegal.”

“The broader the term is used, the more it’s meant to demonize immigrants and portray them as criminals,” he said.

Most immigrants aren’t criminals. Because crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor, but overstaying a visa is a civil infraction, a migrant’s unauthorized presence in the United States is not a criminal offense.

And the notion that immigrants are dangerous has been dashed by several studies showing both legal and illegal immigration does not lead to rising crime. While 6% of U.S. citizens are felons, only 2% of immigrants are felons.

But “criminal aliens” is an even more frequent phrase in Trump’s vocabulary than “illegal aliens.”

Please read the full article here.

Featured in MEL Magazine: How “Illegal Alien” Became a Lightning Rod Issue in America

September 19, 2019Shahid Haque

From Eddie Kim, features writer for MEL Magazine:

Supreme Court Justice Elena Sotomayor tells a room of Yale Law School kids in 2014 why she chooses to say “undocumented immigrant” rather than “illegal alien”: “To call them illegal aliens seemed and does seem insulting to me.”

That last bit rings true to Shahid Haque, an immigration lawyer in Montana who a decade ago published a blog post arguing that “illegal alien” is a dehumanizing phrase. The key shift from the origin of the word “alien” is that in 2019, it’s used as a shorthand to categorize black and brown immigrants. “The average American conjures a common image: a Mexican person. It’s a phrase that makes people feel better than another group, and makes it easy to blame ‘illegals’ as the source of problems,” Haque tells me. “The term ‘alien’ is defined in our laws, sure. But the phrase ‘illegal alien’ makes no sense. There’s no reference in the law to that. You wouldn’t call someone an illegal citizen if they commit a robbery. You’re not an illegal driver if you have a DUI.”

Over the course of his 11-year career, Haque has watched as immigration rules made it harder and harder for people to navigate the system. He argues that an immigrant can be unauthorized for a million different reasons, not merely because they “cheated the system” or “cut the line” as critics have claimed. “The act of entering the country illegally is a misdemeanor. Once you’re in, that’s not a crime you can be arrested over. Your existence isn’t criminal — you just committed an illegal act. And if, like many, you’ve overstayed a visa, well, you’ve not committed any crime at all,” he says. “That’s a civil infraction.”

He also points to Trump as a cheerleader for the framing of people as “illegal aliens,” and notes that more and more people seem to be making a political choice to stick with using “illegal alien” instead of any other term. And there is undeniably a race and class element to this framing — as a 2018 study found, people are prone to use stereotypes in deciding who they call an illegal alien. “We find that national origin, social class and criminal background powerfully shape perceptions of illegality. These findings reveal a new source of ethnic-based inequalities — ‘social illegality’ — that may potentially increase law enforcement scrutiny and influence the decisions of hiring managers, landlords, teachers and other members of the public,” concluded researchers René Flores and Ariela Schachter.

What comes next? Haque is more or less holding his breath until Trump leaves office, as the administration has made a mess while changing a variety of immigration rules and regulations. This has turned immigration courts and the oversight of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency into a clogged artery where people are floating in limbo, unable to appeal decisions and facing judges who have been given orders to hear fewer cases, Haque says, mirroring numerous claims from immigration attorneys and activists. He argues the system, now hyper-jammed, is fueling an increase in immigrants “without status” in the U.S., and that reformed policy should allow more people who don’t have immediate family already here. In the meantime, major U.S. corporations are benefiting wildly from a secondary labor market that’s easily disposable and willing to work for lower wages.

“People say that the immigration system is broken, but really, it’s functioning as designed. The problem is that it’s hurting a lot of people, and really ourselves as a nation. The system isn’t designed to let enough legal immigration for the right people, so what’s happening is there are no opportunities for large categories of people,” he says. “Before Trump, I don’t think anyone credible believed we could do an enforcement-only strategy, but somehow, that’s where we are now. And Democrats spending their time talking about only helping the most needy people, rather than pushing to make the entire system more fair.”

Perhaps these points are a bit moot — Haque doesn’t expect reform to happen anytime soon, let alone people to stop using the phrase “illegal alien.” It still stands as the tip of the iceberg for a social, economic and moral issue larger than George Washington could’ve ever imagined.

Check out the full article.

A Denali Climber’s Experience Being Detained by ICE

July 15, 2019Shahid Haque

Outside reports:

Ibrahim Cetindemir was pulled off his train and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Montana while making his way back home to North Dakota

. . .

On June 24, after successfully summiting both Denali and Mount Rainier, in Alaska and Washington, respectively, Cetindemir was pulled off his train and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in Malta, Montana, while making his way back home to Williston, North Dakota, where he works as a server and part-time photographer. Cetindemir, 28, who with his family fled threats of violence in Guatemala to come to the United States 15 years ago, is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that grants undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children temporary reprieve from deportation, along with work permits and the ability to apply for a Social Security number.

Centindemir says that two CBP agents boarded the train and asked each passenger for their citizenship status. He told them that he’s a DACA recipient and presented documentation, including his driver’s license and work permit. “I just don’t think that they were too sure of what DACA was to begin with,” he says. “And I just knew I was going to get stopped at the following station.”
The agents disembarked, and Cetindemir continued on the train for an hour or so, but at the next stop, four to six CBP agents boarded his car and escorted him off, he says. “I really wasn’t worried at all, because I knew I had my DACA and that it was valid,” Cetindemir says. “I knew for a fact I didn’t have any criminal activity and my record was clean. So I just thought it was going to be an inconvenience. I assumed that they were going to take me to their office or their station, verify that my DACA is valid, and just let me go.”

But instead, the agents looked through their databases and found a deportation order from 2014, issued after Cetindemir’s family members overstayed their visas and were twice denied requests for asylum. Cetindemir chose to remain in the country illegally, and was granted DACA status in 2016. “I said, ‘Well, if you actually do have that, my DACA should supersede the deportation order.’ And that’s when they said, ‘We’re 99 percent sure that DACA doesn’t work like that, and more than likely you will be deported.’ I thought that sounded a bit sketchy, and I that’s when I started to get worried.”

According to Helena, Montana, immigration attorney Shahid Haque, Cetindemir’s gut was right. The 2012 DACA memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security states that even individuals who have received a final order of deportation are eligible for DACA status. Haque says that in the wake of the illegal-immigration crackdown, however, people with final removal orders have become “easy pickings” for the CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents looking to comply with stricter policies, and in Cetindemir’s case, they appeared confused by federal directives and the DACA process. “It seems like he got caught up in an issue where Border Patrol and ICE believed they could try to strip him of his DACA status for apparently no reason other than that he had a prior deportation,” Haque says. “That would seem an egregious overreach.” (A CBP spokesperson declined to comment on these specific accusations.)

Separated from his wife and children by ICE, an undocumented man tries desperately to return home.

January 2, 2019Shahid Haque

The New Republic reports on the case of our client:

On October 10, Audemio was transferred back to Montana, where he passed through an ICE office in Helena en route to the Cascade County jail. At the ICE office, a Jefferson County investigator and an ICE agent interviewed him, with Blanca Chapa translating via speakerphone from Idaho. They kept Audemio in handcuffs, as if he were the suspect and not the victim. Describing his rape, Audemio broke down and cried. He asked for the attorney he’d hired with help from the Mexican Consulate in Boise, Idaho, but the officers told him his attorney was unavailable.

This was not true. In fact, Shahid Haque, a Helena, Montana-based immigration attorney, was in the building, but was not allowed to see Audemio until after the interview ended. Amid the ensuing media coverage of Audemio’s case—the alleged sexual assault of a deportee while in government custody was newsworthy—there was speculation that Audemio made up the rape story for the purpose of securing a U Visa. Haque told me Audemio didn’t even know what a U Visa was when he reported the incident. At the time, his most urgent concern was getting the HIV prophylactics that had been prescribed for him in Idaho.

A week later, Haque secured Audemio’s release on the order of supervision. In the following months, Audemio repeatedly offered to assist in the investigation—to look at mug shots or a lineup, to comment on testimony from his cellmates—but he would not hear from the investigators again. Still more concerning, when Haque acquired the security camera footage through a court order, he found there were gaps on the night of the assault totaling nearly three and a half hours, including a two-hour block from 2:13 to 4:10 a.m. that coincided with Audemio’s estimation of when the rape occurred. Jefferson County Attorney Matthew Johnson—who fought Haque’s efforts to obtain the evidence, on the grounds that releasing it would jeopardize the pending investigation—said the gaps resulted from motion-sensitive cameras turning off when there was no activity in the cell. “When the video skips,” Johnson said in an email to Haque dated November 7, 2013, “it is because there was no movement for a period of time.” This was a red flag: The video from Audemio’s pod cuts out for the first time at 10:30 p.m., while people are still milling around and very much awake.

Read the whole article here.

Shahid Haque was awarded the ACLU’s Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award

March 10, 2017Shahid Haque

From the ACLU website:

Shahid Haque was the 2017 Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award recipient.  Below is the speech he gave at the award reception on March 4:

“It’s been a privilege to play a role in the lives of over a thousand immigrants and their families here in the State of Montana.  It’s been my honor to advocate for a group of people who never cease to amaze me with their strength, resilience, generosity, and hard work.

My job has been to help my clients navigate a system that is so exceptionally difficult and complex, just to achieve something so basic: just keeping families together, helping them live their lives in this state that they chose and love (despite the fact that sometimes their state doesn’t seem to love them). Through that work, it’s been a unique pleasure to shape, in some small part, the makeup of the State of Montana.

Since I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, I’ve gotten to see my clients at all kinds of different stages in their lives. I’ve often started representing clients when they were facing their worst and most vulnerable moment, when they are facing deportation from their home. You see people who aren’t criminals in handcuffs and a jumpsuit, maintaining their dignity as the proud fathers and mothers they are, hoping that they find their way out of this system that has swallowed them up. In those moments, you form a strange bond as your client places their trust in you to guide them through the Kafka-esque absurdity of our immigration court system and hopefully get them out.

On other occasions, I’ve begun representing clients under much happier circumstances. I’ve been part wedding planner, getting to know my clients as they start their new lives together as a married couple. I love hearing how my clients met, and what brought them together. That process is no less absurd, as we deal with endless technicalities and paperwork, and look for ways to document and prove the validity of two peoples’ love for one another to a government adjudicator.

No matter how our attorney/client relationship begins, I’ve enjoyed the fact that I’ve known many of my clients for approaching a decade now. I’ve seen the relief they feel when they get a piece of plastic we call a green card, which means they get to stay here.  Over the years I stay in contact with my clients because even after they get their permanent residence, I help them with  citizenship (years down the road), and I’ve often helped them petition for their parents to join them.

I’ve started to notice and appreciate the way the cycle of immigration continues, and how much it matters in a state like Montana, where so many people have never gotten to know someone from another country. I’ve realized that some of the xenophobia we see in Montana is based on a lack of exposure, and that with exposure comes understanding.

I’ve had many proud and happy moments as an immigration attorney, many of them involve asylum cases for people feeling from persecution in their home countries, for victims of domestic violence, for families who face exceptional hardships.

But despite my efforts, there have also been far too many people I haven’t been able to help, because our immigration laws are so arcane and restrictive, and only provide limited avenues for relief.

So I’d like to dedicate this award to all the undocumented people who have no path to alleviate their fears and are waiting and biding their time for laws to change, who live their lives here knowing that they stick out and that all it will take is one bad cop or one vindictive neighbor to risk being separated from their families. These people who check in with me every time they hear about a new policy designed to make them even more afraid, even less secure. They have been bearing this burden for far, far too long, but they are doing it with so much more grace than I could ever muster.

I want to dedicate this award to all of them, because it represents my promise to them, to keep fighting for them however I can, and to try and be a voice their concerns when they can’t do it themselves.

This year, more than any other year, immigrants in Montana are scared. They are going to need your support, in whatever form you can give it. This year, I invite you to join me in standing up to celebrate and support the immigrants living in every community throughout our state.

Thank you for his honor.”

Firm Prevails: Montana Supreme Court strikes down entirety of anti-immigrant law!

May 11, 2016Shahid Haque

Thanks to the efforts of the Border Crossing Law Firm, the Montana Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision striking down the entirety of an anti-immigrant law, which was placed on the 2012 ballot by the Montana legislature and approved by 80% of voters.  The law, known as LR-121, would have denied a wide variety of state services to so-called “illegal aliens,” including crime victim services, infant hearing screenings, and the ability to attend a public university.  It would have also required that state agencies report these applicants to immigration authorities.  The law defined “illegal aliens” so broadly that it included numerous Montanans who are in this country with valid legal status.

Before the law went into effect, the Border Crossing Law Firm challenged it as an unlawful state-level regulation of immigration that would have wrongly denied state services to non-citizens with valid immigration status.

MIJA was represented on a pro bono basis by attorneys Shahid Haque of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C., and Brian Miller of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson, & Deola, PLLP during this over three-year lawsuit.

In 2014, a district court granted summary judgment in MIJA’s favor, and found that most of LR-121 was unconstitutional.  However, the district court allowed one provision, mandating reporting to immigration authorities, to stand.  The State of Montana appealed the district court decision to the Montana Supreme Court.  In its unanimous decision, the Montana Supreme Court went one step further than the district court and invalidated the reporting provision as well, rendering the entirety of the law unconstitutional.

“The law was a discriminatory attempt to drive immigrants out of the state, and would have unjustly targeted immigrants with valid federal immigration status,” Mr. Haque said.  “The Montana Supreme Court has sent a clear message that the state has no business attempting to create its own immigration enforcement schemes.”

“The legislature ignored its own legislative services division’s warnings that the law was unconstitutional, and wasted state resources defending this unconstitutional law,” Mr. Miller said. “The court’s decision protects vulnerable immigrant populations from discrimination by state agencies in the provision of important services.”

The Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. is proud to continue its advocacy for immigrants in Montana through successful legal challenges to the state’s unconstitutional conduct.

Representing Immigrant Victims of Domestic Abuse

June 16, 2015Shahid Haque

(Originally published in the Montana Lawyer, June/July 2015 Issue)

Representing Immigrant Victims of Domestic Abuse:

Abusive spouses’ manipulation of the system and misguided police enforcement cause additional troubles for immigrant survivors of abuse.

By Shahid Haque

Attorney, Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C.

Every immigration case implicates matters of family unity or separation, and can dramatically impact a client’s livelihood and quality of life.  Immigration matters involving domestic violence and abuse are often the most challenging — but also the most important — types of cases for immigration practitioners.  In my practice, I have assisted dozens of immigrant victims of domestic abuse, including both male and female victims.  In this article, I will discuss some of the common characteristics of these abusive relationships and the difficulties these victims can experience — particularly when law enforcement works against the victim instead of providing support.

How Our Immigration System Provides Opportunities for Abusive Spouses

Immigrant victims of domestic abuse may enter the country on a marriage or fiancé(e) visa, enter the country illegally, or “overstay” a visa. The victim may be married to a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or another person who is undocumented. All of these factors play into the type of relief that may be available to the victim.

Abusive U.S. citizens often use their spouse’s immigration status as a way to exert undue control. Often the immigrant spouse is isolated from society, unable to easily leave home because he or she lacks a driver’s license, prevented from using a phone or computer to connect to friends and family, and prohibited from forming friendships with others. The abuse may manifest as physical violence or extreme emotional cruelty. The abuse is often furthered by threats of deportation if the immigrant spouse ever reports the abuse.  Often, there are children in the household, and the abused spouse doesn’t dare report the abuse to police because of the risk of being deported and leaving the children in the hands of the abuser.

There are many ways that an abusive spouse can use someone’s immigration status as a constant threat.  This type of control is possible because our immigration system provides unfortunate opportunities for U.S. citizens to manipulate their partners’ ability to obtain legal immigration status. For instance, when a U.S. citizen applies for a fiancé(e) visa, the partner enters on a visa that expires unless they get married within 90 days.  Sometimes the U.S. citizen deliberately refuses to get married, leaving the immigrant partner undocumented and unprotected by our immigration laws, but dependent on the abuser.

Even when a couple gets married, the U.S. citizen spouse can still wield control over the immigrant spouse. When a couple has been married for less than two years, the immigrant spouse only gets a two-year “conditional” green card. During that time, immigrant spouses could lose their status if they get divorced or separated, giving the abuser undue control during that time period. Just before the “conditional” green card expires, the couple is expected to jointly file a petition to prove that the marriage is ongoing and is genuine. If an abusive spouse intentionally misses that deadline, the immigrant spouse can be at risk of being removed (i.e. deported) from the U.S. An immigrant can request a “waiver” of the requirement to file a joint petition after the two-year period, but faces a high burden of proof to show the marriage was genuine, and many abused spouses are either unaware of this or afraid to do so.

I have seen many instances in which a U.S. citizen spouse has forced the immigrant spouse to work despite simultaneously refusing to fix the spouse’s immigration status, which puts the immigrant spouse in the position of working without government authorization — often at low wages and without proper workplace protections. It also places the immigrant spouse at higher risk of being detected and arrested by immigration authorities.

Police Need to Be Vigilant and Understanding About Immigrant Victims of Abuse

It is critically important that police be aware of these dynamics and work to protect immigrant victims of domestic abuse. However, sometimes police and immigration officials have worked against abuse victims and helped the abusers. This is due, in part, to the manner in which immigration violations have been “criminalized” in our culture. Despite the fact that most immigration violations are civil in nature, local police have incorrectly viewed them as being serious crimes, and have overlooked the more serious issues of abuse that should be their focus.

A few years back, a female client of mine was strangled in public and police were called to the scene. The male abuser was convicted of partner/family member assault. Although they had been married for many years, and she had no impediment to getting a green card through marriage, the husband refused to follow through with a petition. He had not held a job for years, and he had forced his spouse to purchase a fake green card to obtain employment to support both him and their children.  But, after his conviction, he “tipped” immigration authorities that she was undocumented and had a fake green card.

Immigration authorities took the bait. They launched an investigation and a few months after the abusive spouse’s tip, they had arrested my client, taken her into custody, and issued a final order of deportation against her. They apparently did not take note of the fact that at the time the abusive ex-spouse “tipped” them, he had already pleaded guilty to Partner/Family Member Assault, had a permanent restraining order against him, and the Missoula County Attorney’s office had just brought misdemeanor and felony charges against him for violations of the order of protection. To make matters worse, the U.S. Attorney’s Office brought charges against her in federal court for possession of a fake green card, and she pleaded guilty. Now, that conviction is posing an obstacle to getting immigration relief as an abuse victim.

Types of Relief Available

The options available to immigrant victims of domestic abuse vary considerably depending on the circumstances, and have detailed requirements. Without delving into the minutiae of each type of relief, the following are some of the possibilities.

The Violence Against Women Act provides opportunities for the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to “self petition” for lawful immigration status when he or she is the victim of physical abuse of extreme emotional cruelty.  The petition must be filed while still married or within a year of divorce.  “Good moral character” is a requirement, and is sometimes a real obstacle.  In the example referenced above, U.S
. Citizenship and Immigration Services agrees that my client was the victim of abuse, but is asserting that her criminal conviction for possession of a fake green card shows bad moral character.  We continue to fight her case and argue that they have their priorities wrong.

When the victim of abuse cooperates with law enforcement in the prosecution of an abusive spouse, he or she may also pursue a “U” visa.  This application must be certified by a Judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer.  While many law enforcement officers are reluctant to certify due to unfamiliarity with the U visa, this visa provides a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, and should be seriously considered.

Victims of human trafficking, whose situations may differ considerably from abused immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens, may pursue a “T visa” under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

In some rare instances, an immigrant victim of domestic abuse can pursue asylum.  Refugees who flee from their home countries to escape persecution on account of race, religion, political beliefs or particular social group can ask for asylum in the U.S.  It is a difficult form of relief to win due to its high burden of proof.  However, we recently won asylum for a woman from Mexico who fled the country to escape her husband’s severe violence and cruelty. We were able to demonstrate that she was viewed as the property of her husband, that she had reported the abuse to police and been ignored, and that she had fled multiple times only to be captured and returned to her husband. Under these rare circumstances, the immigration judge agreed that the abuse amounted to persecution on account of her “particular social group” and that she had a reasonable fear of returning to Mexico.

“Mail Order” Brides?

Sometimes, we hear of immigrant victims of domestic violence referred to as “mail order brides.” Except in the rarest instances, the term is really a misnomer, as it is not representative of most relationships or the manner in which most immigrant spouses came to the United States. In addition, it has some offensive and sexist undertones. First, it implies that the legal burden to get a visa for a spouse is easy. That is certainly not true, as one who goes through normal immigration channels to obtain entry on a fiancé(e) or marriage visa has to prove a genuine relationship, and this can often be difficult. In our practice, we have often dealt with legitimate marriage petitions that get wrongly denied because they don’t fit into traditional stereotypes.

The term also implies that the women who enter the U.S. as immigrants are complicit in wanting to enter into fake marriages just for the visa. In my experience, the immigrant spouse has typically wanted to enter into a genuine and legitimate relationship, but the relationship ends because of abuse or misconduct by the U.S. citizen.

While there are instances in which women have literally posed in magazines, been trafficked into the country, and ultimately sold into marriage, the broad usage of the term goes much farther than this limited scenario. Language is important because it shapes perspective and policy. The term is currently being used to malign legitimate relationships that may appear “suspicious” to someone based on their own preconceived ideas, but is actually just a form of stereotyping. Therefore, I encourage readers to either limit the term to the small instances where it would be correct, or simply stop using the term.

Concluding Thoughts

If you are interested in helping immigrant victims of domestic abuse, opportunities are often available to assist. Please feel free to contact me. We hope to create a list of volunteer attorneys we can turn to for assistance with these important cases.

Shahid Haque is an immigration attorney and founder of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C., and also serves as President of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, a non-profit group advocating for the rights of immigrants. He will be teaching immigration law at the University of Montana School of Law starting in the Fall semester.

Firm Prevails in Lawsuit Against Montana Highway Patrol’s Racial Profiling of Latinos

April 21, 2015Shahid Haque

On April 4, 2014, the Border Crossing Law Firm prevailed in its class action lawsuit against the Montana Highway Patrol, which was brought because the Montana Highway Patrol was engaging in a practice of detaining Latino drivers and passengers for the purpose of checking into their immigration status. A final judgment was entered by U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen.  Attorneys Shahid Haque of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. and Brian Miller of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP represented the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

As Troy Carter of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports:

The Montana Department of Justice settled a lawsuit Friday filed against the Montana Highway Patrol alleging troopers routinely racially profiled Latinos and violated federal law by detaining them on minor traffic charges so they could verify their immigration status.

A group of Latinos led by Jose Rios-Diaz and the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, a nonprofit in Helena that defends the civil rights of immigrants, filed the case in 2013.

The plaintiffs agreed to the settlement because it stipulates that all troopers will be taught a new policy specifically instructing them to never use race as pretext for detaining a person to verify their immigration status, nor arrest a person solely because the person lacks immigration documentation, according to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

Under the new policy, troopers cannot ask about immigration status based solely on a person’s race, ethnicity or language abilities. Nor can they demand drivers or passengers tell them their immigration status or detain people who choose not to answer.

According to one trooper’s written testimony submitted as evidence in the initial complaint, former MHP Col. Kenton Hicketheir had told him to do exactly that.

“In one instance Hickethier ordered me to arrest suspects I believed might be illegally in the country regardless of whether the facts supported an offense for which a person could be arrested under Montana law,” wrote Trooper Glenn Quinnelll in 2011. “His instructions were to get them to jail one way or another so federal authorities could place detainers on them.”

Hicketheir resigned from the MHP’s top post in 2013 after an investigation into discrimination against subordinates.

Friday’s settlement was signed by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen. It does not find the MHP guilty of wrongdoing.

MHP’s Col. Tom Butler denied any discrimination in a prepared statement.

“While we believe that we have always done what the law requires, the lawsuit prompted us to enshrine in policy what has already been the practice in the field,” Butler said.

dash cam video posted on Youtube by Shahid Haque, the plaintiff’s attorney, showed how a MHP trooper turned a speeding ticket stop into a 50-minute immigration check. The man was a U.S. citizen.

“We hope that police departments throughout the state use this policy as an example, and train their officers that they cannot demand that Latinos show them their papers, or detain people just to check their immigration status,” Haque-Hasrath said in a joint statement with the Department of Justice.

The DOJ also agreed to hire an independent police auditor and produce annual reports on MHP’s efforts to prevent racial profiling, and record all trooper contacts with the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2010, Arizona enacted Senate Bill 1070, a bill that required all aliens to carry their government paperwork with them and allowed state law enforcement agencies to inspect it during a lawful stop if there was suspicion that the person was in the country illegally. Critics panned it as a license to racially profile and an institutionalization of racial discrimination. Parts of the law were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Montana Legislature has not given Montana Highway Patrol any similar authority. The settlement comes two months before the plaintiff’s motion for certification as a class action lawsuit was set to be heard by the court. If certified, the plaintiffs could have publicly solicited others to join the case.

Public documents confirm that the Montana Highway Patrol had engaged in a pattern of racial profiling of Latinos in a misguided effort to enforce federal immigration laws.  This article by Troy Carter of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle discusses the misconduct in more detail:

Montana Highway Patrol troopers held Latinos stopped for traffic violations based on their appearance and accents, sometimes detaining them for hours, while waiting for federal agents to conduct immigration checks, according to evidence in a recently settled lawsuit.

Despite Montana law banning racial profiling, troopers held Latino drivers and passengers and were instructed to arrest them for traffic offenses until federal agents could take suspected illegal immigrants into custody, according to public documents in the case.

In one internal email, troopers were told to request “translation” services to detain suspected illegals until federal agents could arrive. “FYI … the key is to ask for translation. Then they take over the case after the assist,” a trooper wrote to his colleagues.

Meanwhile, records show that Highway Patrol leadership downplayed racial profiling complaints as troopers continued the practice.

The Chronicle examined hundreds of MHP internal emails and documents, dashboard camera videos and audio recordings obtained from the Helena immigration attorney who sued the patrol, Shahid Haque, after the lawsuit recently ended in a no-fault agreement.

Col. Tom Butler, the Highway Patrol’s top officer, told the Chronicle this week that the agency does not engage in racial profiling and that any specific incidents would be a tiny fraction of the 100,000 stops troopers make every year. The lawsuit ended after MHP agreed to new policies designed to train troopers on racial profiling and protect minority drivers. The plaintiffs included four Latinos and the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance.

Local resident detained

Jose Rios-Diaz of Belgrade, a Mexican immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2009, was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Rios-Diaz, 29, was stopped by a trooper while on his way to work. His Ford Ranger was traveling 83 mph in a 65 mph zone. The trooper became suspicious, records show, because the pickup was insured by Rios-Diaz but registered to his friend.

“I proceeded and asked Mr. Rios-Diaz how long he had lived in the United State and he responded by telling me, ‘About Uhh…10 years…’ With Mr. Rios-Diaz having allegedly been here for nearly a decade, his accent was surpri
singly thick,” Trooper Justin Moran wrote in a report to his sergeant.

While waiting to hear back from immigration enforcement authorities, Moran said he lied to Rios-Diaz to keep him calm. He told him the long wait was due to a problem verifying his insurance. After 55 minutes (MHP said it was 47), Rios-Diaz was released with a $40 speeding ticket.

“Although that was not the case and I had already verified the policy was valid, it allowed me to tell him something to calm his nerves, rather than tell him I was waiting for a call from an agency that could potentially show that he should not be in the United States,” Moran wrote to his sergeant.

Rios-Diaz’s attorney said the documents show the trooper admitted he had detained a man with an accent longer than necessary for the sole purpose of verifying his immigration status, a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Moran called the subsequent complaint a wild accusation. Sgt. Scott Ayers, Moran’s direct supervisor, agreed. In a letter to his superior, Ayers defended Moran’s actions.

“Also of note is that Trooper Moran indicated that ICE had said that Mr. Rios-Diaz is supposed to carry his naturalization papers with him, and if he had done so, much of the confusion could have been avoided,” Ayers wrote in a report, later adding that Rios-Diaz should register the truck in his name to avoid future questions.

But Haque said MHP has attempted to shift the blame from Moran onto Rios-Diaz. He said driving a vehicle registered to another person has nothing to do with citizenship and could not have been the reason the trooper was suspicious. By law, U.S. citizens are not required to carry naturalization papers or a birth certificate.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Rios-Diaz said he was nervous when Moran pulled him over because he had been treated poorly by Mexican and U.S. police officers in the past.

“Every time they pull me over they treat me with a lot of power. At some point I had to decide that I have to fight for my rights. That’s the reason I told him he’s not supposed to ask me,” Rios-Diaz said. “Some policemen that I know are really nice. It’s not every police officer, just a few.”

The review of Rios-Diaz’s detainment went all the way to the top. Former Col. Michael Tooley, in an email to colleagues, said his wife, also a naturalized Latina, had reacted to Rios-Diaz’s story by saying, “’If he’s going to drive like an idiot maybe he should have his @#$together.” Tooley agreed with his wife. “That pretty well sums it up,” he said in the email that thanked Moran for his work.

In response to Rios-Diaz’s complaint, Tooley told Haque, “Mr. Rios-Diaz was stopped for a valid reason, speeding. Trooper Moran became suspicious upon review of the documentation attached to the vehicle and conducted an investigation to ensure there were no other violations of law outside of the initial stop. Once that was completed, he released Mr. Rios-Diaz.”

Tooley, now director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said during his time as the MHP’s colonel he had used a $400,000 grant to install the SmartCOP electronic records system to track officer behavior and traffic stops.

“In Trooper Moran’s case, we took a close look at that, and he had no such pattern of any behavior. Would I have asked the questions he asked? Probably not, but I wasn’t the one who made the traffic stop,” Tooley told the Chronicle on Friday.

In a recent deposition, Moran said it was the totality of the circumstances that led him to ask whether Rios-Diaz was in the country legally. But Rios-Diaz’s attorney contends the circumstances could apply to anyone, such as being nervous and having registration that didn’t match his insurance.

The most concerning part of Tooley’s response was that he said there was “never a doubt” that Moran was correct, Haque said, calling it bizarre that he would run it by his wife, then dismiss the complaint.

Tooley should have used the complaint as an opportunity to tell troopers that they should not go “fishing” for illegal immigrants, the attorney said.

“Instead he supported the misconduct and it continued for years…. I don’t think the troopers want to enforce immigration law per se. They want to do their jobs and look to guidance from their sergeants, captains and the colonel, and what they got was that they were supposed to be doing this,” Haque said.

Evidence from the lawsuit shows Rios-Diaz’s traffic stop wasn’t an isolated case of racial profiling, the attorney said.

According to a 2012 incident report, Sgt. Scott Ayers pulled over a car for speeding near Billings. He held the three Latino men in the vehicle for 1 hour and 40 minutes because the trooper had spotted a navigation unit, food wrappers, air fresheners, cologne and a portable battery pack in the vehicle.

He said their story about a wedding in Seattle was odd and suspected they were drug traffickers in the country illegally. But no contraband was found. He apologized to the men for making them wait while ICE investigated their immigration status, according to his incident report. Ayers reported the men were in the country illegally, but federal agents had no interest in arresting them so he let them go.

In a 2013 incident report, Trooper Lynwood Batemen explained how he stopped a pickup truck on Highway 2 in Garfield County because it did not have a front license plate. After establishing that the driver had a valid California driver’s license, Batemen asked the passenger who “had a very strong Hispanic accent” for identification. After contacting the U.S. Border Patrol, the trooper arrested both men on suspicion of being unlawfully in the country.

Haque does not dispute that some of these Latinos may have been in the country illegally. He does dispute, though, whether the patrol has the authority or training to engage in immigration enforcement.

Authority to enforce?

Montana law bans police forces from engaging in racial profiling, which is defined as the detention, official restraint or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on the basis of his or her racial or ethnic status.

“The Highway Patrol’s scope is limited by Montana Code to specific violations of the law. They are not a generalized state police force. They really are limited to certain types of things that happen on highways and public roadways,” said Haque.

Col. Tom Butler did not disagree. He said that the Highway Patrol’s main mission is enforcing Montana traffic laws, but it also has a long tradition of working with federal agencies when requested.

“But if we encounter drug issues, we work with the DEA. If we encounter someone that we have probable cause or suspect that is in the country illegally, we work with IC
E,” Butler said. “There’s no specialized enforcement related towards immigration issues. It’s just if we happen to trip over the top of it.”

Asked how a trooper can trip over an illegal immigrant during a traffic stop, Butler said that it usually happens when someone doesn’t have proper identification papers. Butler said troopers ask for passenger identification to find someone who can drive the vehicle away if the driver is arrested.

“That’s how we start talking to passengers. You need to keep in mind we’re making these stops for violations of the state of Montana traffic laws. In that, obviously identification is part of it. Well when the driver can’t be identified or we can’t confirm that he has a driver’s license, you know towing and impounding a vehicle is a whole other issue and we don’t necessarily like doing that … so we’re always trying to figure out if someone has a driver’s license,” Butler said.

But Haque said there are cases in which the driver has valid ID but passengers, who are only required to tell an officer their name and address, are questioned about their immigration status. He said passengers are subsequently arrested and sometimes transported to county jails where federal agents will retrieve them.

Montana law states that the length of a stop “may not last longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” According to Haque, stops like Batemen’s should last long enough to issue the warning for the missing front license plate.

He asked if troopers should also begin holding poor people so that they can make sure the people have paid the Internal Revenue Service.

The agency’s name, Montana Highway Patrol, indicates the scope of laws troopers are authorized to enforce, Haque said.

“Immigration is definitely not one of them…. There is a refusal of law enforcement entities to just recognize that. They want to look at it like a criminal violation of the law that they can enforce,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state and local law enforcement officers “may perform the functions of an immigration officer” only in “limited circumstances” specified by federal law.

Questionable tactics

In some cases, “immigration detainers” are used to hold Latinos suspected of being illegal, which some courts have decided are unconstitutional.

An immigration detainer is an official request to hold an alien for up to 48 hours after they would be otherwise released so that federal agents may assume custody. Recent federal and district court decisions have found the use of detainers constitutionally questionable.

In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that states and local governments are not required to hold aliens at ICE’s request. Doing so amounted to commandeering state and local resources, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. Combined with 2014 rulings from two other district courts in Oregon and Rhode Island that considered the legality of detainers on Fourth Amendment questions, state and local governments could be vulnerable to lawsuits for complying with an ICE detainer, according to a congressional report.

In 2013, Trooper Barry Kilpela stopped a Chevy Tahoe on Highway 200 between Sidney and Fairview because it had tinted headlights, which are not allowed in Montana. The driver, Rene Valencia, had a valid Arizona driver’s license.

Kilpela immediately questioned two of the passengers about their immigration status. Based on the conversation, the trooper returned to his car and contacted a border patrol agent.

Kilpela described each person’s speech. Two passengers had sub-par English skills, he said. The conversation was recorded by his dash camera.

“There are four in the car,” he said. “Two of them are illegal I would guess,” and he added that the driver and one passenger “just seem a little more American than the other guys.”

He indicated he could arrest the two men before giving the border patrol officer their names. After holding the vehicle for more than 40 minutes, the two men were arrested and taken to the Richland County Jail.

Meanwhile, border patrol faxed the jail an immigration detainer.

Detainers are needed because only the federal government has the authority to determine who may be inside the U.S. In the absence of express authorization of Congress, state and local law enforcement are not allowed to directly enforce immigration law.

In 1996, Congress created a route for state and local agents to take part in enforcing certain immigration laws, including arresting illegal aliens.

Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, local agencies can sign an agreement to investigate, apprehend and detain illegal aliens after receiving “adequate training” on immigration laws.

During the 2009 Montana legislative session, state Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, proposed legislation to enact an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. The intent was to give MHP authority to enforce immigration law.

When Shockley’s bill was before the House Judiciary Committee — where it died — Tooley testified that the cost of the agreement had been “very expensive” for the state of Colorado, costing $4.1 million over a two-year period, according to legislative archives.

Tooley questioned the bill’s fiscal note for leaving out the costs of training Montana troopers in other states and the overtime costs associated when those troopers enforced immigration laws. He said the bill’s passage should be contingent on federal funding.

During the hearing, Tooley was asked why Montana’s law enforcement academy couldn’t just train troopers on enforcing immigration law.

“We don’t have the ability to do that here in Montana, and the federal government will not sign an (agreement) unless we agree to go to their training,” Tooley told the committee.

Haque was at the 2009 hearing with Tooley. At the time he had assumed the Montana Highway Patrol was protecting the civil rights of drivers they pulled over. Today, he views Tooley’s statements differently.

“If you’re already doing this stuff, as they were, violating people’s rights without any training, without any knowledge of immigration law, and then you’re being told to enter into this agreement that will cost money, require them to get training, it would change the method they would go about it because they would have to follow specific parameters. It would make their lives harder,” said Haque.

During the lawsuit, Haque requested that the state show evidence that troopers had been given authority to engage in immigration enforcement actions.

“The only thing they ever provided was a mutual aid agreement, which is not even law,” said the lawyer. “It’s a little policy from the MHP’s own manual. It says if another law enforcement agency entity asks you for assistance you can go through a certain set of other policies to help them.”

MHP’s policy manual specifies that troopers may request assistance from a member of another law enforcement agency when it is in the best interests of safety. The policy doesn’t state troopers can contact other agencies when they suspect illegal immigrants.

The policy also states that requests for federal assistance must go through headquarters, not from troopers on the road.

“So they weren’t even following this guidance, even if it somehow could trump state or federal law,” said Haque.

Gov. Steve Bullock, who was the attorney general in charge of MHP during some of the incidents, was asked this week if he had concerns about racial profiling in Montana and if he felt like steps have been taken to prevent it.

“During my time as attorney general, we implemented measures like the SmartCop dispatch and record keeping, cultural sensitivity training … as well as implemented other policy improvements that would help prevent racial profiling in Montana,” Bullock said in an email Friday. “Everyone should be vigilant about racial profiling in our state, that’s how we prevent it.”

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Obama’s New Immigration Policies

November 20, 2014Shahid Haque

⌛️This article contains outdated information.  Unfortunately, these policies were never implemented because they were blocked by a federal court.

President Obama just announced exciting new immigration policies that will protect some immigrants from deportation and prevent them from being separated from their loved ones.  Here are the top 10 things you need to know:

  1. If you are the parent of a U.S. citizen child (or a child with a green card), and you have been here for five years, you will qualify for temporary protection and be able to get a work authorization card.

  2. Anyone who entered the U.S. before turning 16 years old, and has been here for five years, will also be eligible for temporary protection and work cards. It doesn’t matter how old you are now, as long as you entered when you were under 16.

  3. You may be eligible for a new “pardon” if you entered illegally, a family member petitioned for you, and you have been waiting many years for a visa to become available. Once the visa is ready, you will have a chance to be “forgiven” for being here illegally and stay. Please contact us if you think this applies to you and we can talk about it.

  4. The law doesn’t start right away. They have said it will be a couple of months before you can actually apply, but if you are eligible you should start working on gathering the evidence that will be needed. We can help with this.

  5. There are still details we don’t know. If this works like other executive actions, the work cards for parents and people who entered when they were under 16 should apply even if you have multiple illegal entries or prior deportation orders. But, we don’t know this for sure yet.

  6. If you are in deportation proceedings right now, this could help to stop the deportation!

  7. If you have any criminal convictions, you may not qualify. It depends on what you were arrested for. Be careful and consult with an attorney before applying.

  8. If you came here as an adult, are not parent of a U.S. citizen, and don’t have any family who can petition for you to stay, you won’t be eligible for any new benefits.

  9. You should contact a qualified immigration attorney and don’t try to apply on your own. There are still things that may make you ineligible for benefits, and we can help able to advise you on your options. You can contact the Border Crossing Law Firm here.

  10. These new policies are welcome changes, but only provide temporary relief — Congress still needs to pass immigration reform to help more immigrants and make permanent changes.

We will be updating this list as more details develop!  Check for updates at

Advocating for immigrants.

The Border Crossing Law Firm is a full-service immigration law firm, offering help with visas, green cards, citizenship, and deportation proceedings. We have been committed to the immigrant community for two decades, representing thousands of immigrants and their families across the country.