CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit said there is nothing it can do to stop the government from deporting a Polish woman ensnared in a shady sting operation meant to crack down on immigration bribery, but the court hopes the woman’s attorney will face disciplinary action for his substandard performance.
Alicia Kania Wroblewska came to the United States in 1994. She overstayed her visa and was caught allegedly trying to bribe an immigration official through a sting code-named Operation Durango.
The ruling explains that Operation Durango has problematic history with the courts because targets of the sting may have been unable to tell whether the process was real and legal.
Though immigrants were brought to a nondescript storefront on the North Side of Chicago, and the “officials” with whom they dealt did not wear government uniforms, “the procedure used in Operation Durango looked a lot like the normal adjustment-of-status process.”
Wroblewska subsequently married a U.S. citizen and maintained a clean criminal record. After her husband filed a petition for an alien relative visa, Wroblewska applied for permanent resident status. Though otherwise qualified, the immigration judge denied a change in status on the basis of her alleged bribery. A three-member board of immigration appeals affirmed.
Wroblewska appealed, challenging the judge’s reasoning and arguing that Operation Durango violated her due-process rights.
“Throughout her removal proceedings, Wroblewska has maintained that she thought she was adjusting her status legally in 1999, and she has always denied paying a $5,000 bribe,” according to the 11-page ruling.
“Her story is believable in some respects,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for the three-judge panel. “In the past, we have called Operation Durango ‘a shady sting operation that in some countries … might represent the way that business is actually done.'”
But the court said Wroblewska did not present a strong enough legal or constitutional argument to surmount the limited jurisdiction that Congress has afforded to review immigration decisions.
“In that regard, Wroblewska’s lawyer – Reza Baniassadi – seriously hampered her chances,” Wood wrote. “In Wroblewska’s petition, Attorney Baniassadi presented a single, underdeveloped legal argument: that evidence gathered during Operation Durango should have been suppressed because the operation itself was an egregious violation of Wroblewska’s right to due process.”
The panel explained that a different immigrant’s case already foreclosed arguments about the “shady” nature of Operation Durango. Wroblewska could not have been entrapped because she was an otherwise law-abiding person induced into committing a crime.
“At the time that Wroblewska was caught in the sting she was committing a continuing violation of the immigration laws and had no basis for applying for an adjustment of status. Operation Durango simply brought her to the attention of immigration officials.”
But the court simply does not have the authority to review this agency decision denying discretionary relief.
“Were we in the IJ’s shoes, faced with the government’s assertion that an alien had bribed a federal immigration official, we would demand more than weak circumstantial evidence to support that allegation,” Wood wrote.
“In light of the government’s weak evidence of bribery and Wroblewska’s happy marriage and fruitful participation in the community, we might have weighed the equities differently than the agency,” she added. “But that is not our role.”
Though unable to help Wroblewska, Wood added that the court would forward a copy of its opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, so that it might chastise the woman’s attorney for his efforts, which “fell far below the minimum standards for competent representation in this court.”
“We are disturbed … by attorney Baniassadi’s perfunctory performance,” Wood wrote.