Immigration Agency Puzzles Federal Judge

BOISE (CN) – The Immigration Service cannot duck a lawsuit from a longtime legal resident who has documents the agency claims it never issued, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Candy Dale rejected the agency’s motion for summary judgment because the two stories in the case “directly contradict each other.”
     Rosalba Vargas-Ortiz has lived legally in the United States for more than 20 years, working first at a California fruit farm before moving to Boise.
     Now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is trying to deport her because of its own administrative screw-ups, she says. She sued it in September 2014, citing a number of peculiarities in the way the agency treated her: repeatedly changing her name in the documents it issued her, then telling her not to worry about it.
     But now she has to worry about it. She says she was forced to sue when the USCIS issued her a new immigration number, then told her she was being deported because it had no information for her under that number to show she had proper immigration documents.
     That’s hardly the case, Vargas says. “Plaintiff possesses three genuine documents bearing her photograph and fingerprints, issued by defendant USCIS.”
     Ortiz, who has four U.S.-born children, says she had all the proper documentation, but the USCIS simply erased her from its record. Immigrants are given alien numbers, known as A numbers, which follow them through the legal process.
     The tale in her lawsuit recited a comedy of USCIS errors. She says the agency issued her a temporary residency permit in 1988, with the wrong name and birthdate, and she informed it of its errors.
     It issued her a green card – permanent residency – in 1992, with a new wrong name and the same wrong birthdate. She informed it again.
     When she renewed her green card in 2002, it gave her a new wrong name and a new wrong birthdate. When she informed it again, the agency told her it would send her a new green card with the correct information, but if it did, it never arrived.
     So she applied for a replacement green card in 2008, and again, it gave her one with the wrong name and the wrong birthdate.
     “When the plaintiff attempted to renew the card through submission of yet another form and required fee … the defendants denied the application without explanation,” her complaint states. “Even worse, the defendants invented a new alien number for her and referred her to immigration court for removal proceedings. The defendants … effectively erased her record of lawful status in this country without following the established procedure for rescinding an individual’s permanent resident status.”
     So in 2009 the agency started trying to deport her.
     Vargas says an immigration judge canceled her removal proceedings in 2010, due to USCIS errors.
     When she applied again for a green card with her correct information, in 2013, the government began trying to deport her in earnest.
     Ortiz says she has jumped through legal hoops repeatedly, filled out all the documents she had to, and met with agency representatives over and over, but still is facing deportation.
     She sued the Immigration Service under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedures Act the U.S. Constitution.
     The agency moved for dismissal, but Judge Dale said there are too many unanswered questions.
     “Despite evidence of the issuance of the cards, defendants claim plaintiff never applied for residency status, and do not explain what might have happened to her file,” Dale wrote in her June 26 order. “On the one hand, plaintiff indicates she lawfully complied with the immigration laws, and applied for and received not one, but two permanent resident alien cards in addition to her initial temporary resident alien card.
     “On the other hand, defendants claim plaintiff did not ever apply for residency status because they cannot find her file and the alien number initially given to plaintiff is now associated with a woman in Florida. The two stories directly contradict each other, and the court is not in a position to resolve the factual conflict.”
     Judge Candy found it perplexing that the Immigration Service can’t explain the documents in Ortiz’s possession.
     “Defendants do not explain how plaintiff obtained the various immigration documents bearing her photograph and fingerprints, nor do they dispute the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint that she possessed such documents,” the judge wrote.
     Dale set a telephonic scheduling conference in light of the defendant’s “premature filing of a summary judgment motion” and the “irreconcilable factual conundrum,” ordering the parties to “meet and confer a joint litigation plan.”
     Vargas’s attorney Maria Andrade could not be reached for comment.
     The Immigration Service office in Boise did not immediately return a phone call.
     Several immigration attorneys told Courthouse News that Vargas’s situation is not unusual.

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