Originally posted May 26, 2010 on

What part of “illegal” don’t you understand?

This question is the traditional refrain of the anti-immigrant crowd. What they don’t seem to understand is that, in the same family, one spouse may be illegal while the other spouse is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Their children may also be U.S. citizens.

In such cases, does it make sense to arrest and deport the illegal spouse, and separate the family for weeks, months, or even years?

I just received a phone call from the husband of a registered nurse. He is a U.S. citizen. He and his wife have been married for over a year and are the parents of a U.S. citizen child who is being breast fed. Since he became a naturalized citizen only recently, his wife, who was present in the U.S. on a student visa, decided to pursue her green card application through her job. She takes care of patients at a local hospital.

The wife originally entered the U.S. as a visitor, changed her status to student, and, once she obtained an RN license and an offer of employment, she applied for adjustment of status to permanent resident.

A few months ago, the USCIS scheduled her for an interview. At the interview, she learned that she had been ordered deported by an Immigration Judge years before. She was stunned. Why had USCIS approved her application to change her status from visitor to student? Government mistake. Why had USCIS accepted her application for adjustment of status and issued her a work permit? Government mistake.

After the interview, the USCIS denied her application for adjustment of status. Fortunately, her husband soon became a naturalized citizen, and submitted an immigrant visa petition on her behalf. The USCIS approved the petition.

The next step was for her to apply for a green card.

However, as her husband informed me today, five ICE agents appeared at the hospital this afternoon and arrested his wife.

Does this make any sense to anyone? Certainly, it makes no sense to me.

Maybe this is the part of “illegal” that I don’t understand.


P.S. On June 1, thanks to the hard work of Attorney Ellen Ma Lee of our office, ICE released our client on her own recognizance!

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