CAIR Coalition Secures Freedom for Chinese Asylee Who Spent Two Years in Immigration Detention

by Kathryn M. Doan, Esq.

Mr. ZP fled to the United States in 2000 to escape China’s population control measures, including forced sterilization in his case.  Mr. ZP subsequently applied for and was granted asylum after presenting compelling evidence that he would be persecuted if he returned to China.  Mr. ZP’s sister and brother, a U.S. citizen and a lawful permanent resident, respectively, helped him to start his life anew in the United States.  Mr. ZP found a job as a chef in a Chinese restaurant in New York City where he could employ his existing skills.  There he worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for just above the minimum wage.  When he was laid off from his job for economic reasons, he traveled to various other states to find work, eventually settling in Virginia.  In 2007, he pled guilty in court to a charge stemming from an unfortunate altercation that occurred at his job.  He immediately regretted his actions, and even waited outside the building for the police to arrive.   However, his conviction in the matter led to his being placed in removal proceedings.  As is the case for so many immigrants, the immigration consequences of Mr. ZP’s conviction were potentially much more devastating than the criminal consequences.  For instead of facing the prospect of a relatively short jail sentence, Mr. ZP was facing the prospect of being tortured, and perhaps even killed, if he were forced to return to China.

Mr. ZP was first placed in immigration custody in January 2008.  For over a year, Mr. ZP was unable to proceed with his immigration case because of a language barrier and lack of access to legal counsel.  A former resident of Fujian province in southeast China, Mr. ZP speaks Fuzhou as his first language.  When Mr. ZP first appeared in immigration court, the court’s Mandarin speaking interpreters were unable to communicate with him.  This led the court to conclude that he could not speak Mandarin and only spoke Fuzhou.  CAIR Coalition’s efforts to place the case with a pro bono attorney were hampered by the lack of available Fuzhou interpreters who could assist legal counsel in communicating with Mr. ZP.   Finally, not wanting Mr. ZP’s case to be on hold any longer, the CAIR Coalition decided to try again with a Mandarin speaking interpreter.  CAIR Coalition was fortunate to have a Mandarin speaking law clerk who accompanied CAIR Coalition staff to Hampton Roads Regional Jail where she spoke with Mr. ZP.  Perhaps because she was a bit more patient than the court interpreter’s had been, she was able to understand Mr. ZP and could translate for CAIR Coalition staff.  At that point, Mr. ZP’s case was back on track and he could proceed to apply for relief from removal.

Because Mr. ZP’s case had already been pending for so long, CAIR Coalition decided to take the case in-house rather than to continue trying to place it with a pro bono attorney.  Bernardo Rodriguez, a CAIR Coalition staff attorney, represented Mr. ZP.  Mr. Rodriguez faced numerous challenges in securing relief for Mr. ZP, who was eligible to adjust his status to legal permanent residence with the aid of a refugee waiver.  These included finding a civil surgeon, a doctor with a special certification from the United States government, who was willing to travel to Hampton Roads Regional Jail to perform the medical examination required for legal permanent residence, as well as assisting Mr. ZP to secure the funds needed to pay for the examination and recruiting Mr. ZP’s family to actively assist with his case.  Mr. Rodriguez also faced several rescheduled hearings that further prolonged Mr. ZP’s time in detention. Finally, on January 25, 2010, after spending over two years in immigration detention, the court granted Mr. ZP legal permanent residence.  He is now a free man and has joined his family in New York City to begin rebuilding his life.

Without the intervention of concerned individuals and legal counsel, Mr. ZP most likely would have continued to languish in detention and would have eventually been ordered deported to China, where his life would have been in danger. For Bernardo, representing Mr. ZP was an eye-opening experience and a case that represented some of the lesser known ways in which the immigration system can fail even those who have a strong and legally straightforward defense to deportation.


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