WASHINGTON (CN) — An immigration attorney on Friday urged a federal judge in Washington to take action on a lawsuit filed by a mother fleeing domestic abuse in Iran, one of the countries worst hit by the global virus pandemic.
The plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe, is suing the Department of Homeland Security in hopes of securing documents to travel from Iran with her two young children to the United States, claiming her husband hid her green card and said it expired. Doe had established legal permanent residency in the U.S. but has been outside the country for over four years.
Before getting to the merits of the case during Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden asked the obvious question: “Do you admit that it is impossible to provide relief given the coronavirus?”
Reports indicate that Iran as of Friday had 7,851 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last week, bringing the total infected to 11,364. The Iranian government’s initial denial of the spread of the disease within its border is said to have contributed to the surging cases there, even as officials in the highest levels of government took ill themselves.
But immigration attorney Michael Piston made clear in court on Friday that the case should proceed with urgency. He argued that while his client is unable to travel to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, to pick up immigration documents because of travel bans in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the restrictions could be lifted.
“[The ban] which could be reversed at any moment is no bar,” Piston told the judge.
The attorney argued that the Iranian plaintiff is being denied her due process rights as a legal resident to present herself at the border for an immigration hearing because she cannot board a plane to the U.S.
“What is it about the fact that they lost their cards that requires that they establish anything other than that they are who they claim to be?” Piston asked, repeatedly reminding the judge that his client is not seeking an order for reentry, simply a hearing to make her case for why she should be allowed to again take up residency.
McFadden recognized that Doe’s husband’s physical abuse toward the woman and her children raises the urgency of the lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., federal court, where the caseload is heavy in each judges’ chambers.
But with the Trump administration having increased tensions with Iran and tightened down on entry into the U.S. amid the outbreak, the government took issue with the length of time the family has remained outside the country.
“We can’t just say ‘Oh we are going to give you a document so you can come to the United States,’” Justice Department attorney April Seabrook said. “There are issues with security. There are issues with logistics.”
In response, McFadden, an appointee of President Donald Trump, questioned how the situation would be different if Doe had simply lost the green card while on vacation outside the U.S.
The Justice Department attorney explained that one remedy in that situation would be for the lawful resident to show plane tickets as evidence they had only recently left the country.
Seabrook further argued that there was no merit to the case because Doe had not applied for a reentry visa so she could not challenge an agency action, telling the judge that once a green-card holder abandons residency they likewise abandon the rights that come with it.
“This is the way that our system works,” Seabrook said, adding that the government is willing to expedite the reentry visa application.
“We are sympathetic to the plaintiff,” she added.
But the immigration attorney took issue with numerous claims by the government, including that his client could apply for other visas.
“It’s not insignificant that she could not name another way,” Piston said of the Justice Department attorney, “because they do not exist.”