The subject line always read “Help a service member!” More emails than I’m willing to admit hit my inbox from AILA’s Military Assistance Program (MAP) before I actually opened one. I was sure my lack of experience with military cases meant taking on a case would be difficult and time consuming in addition to my already heavy workload. The emails kept coming, and the list of cases continued to grow, so I decided to just take a look. Surprisingly, most of the cases fell within my practice area and were relatively straightforward: “Adjustment of Status (AOS) for Mother with Approved Parole in Place (PIP) and I-130,” “Marine Seeks Permanent Residency for Father Who Has Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” “Marine Seeks Naturalization, Consular Processing for Mexican Military Spouse,” and so on.
I should have said yes sooner. I mean, the AILA MAP portal is extremely easy to use. Each case has its own virtual card that contains a case summary including relief sought and potential issues, if any. For my first case, I opted for one where scope of representation could be limited to form preparation. I found a straightforward AOS case in San Diego for a service member’s wife, Karen, who had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and previously approved PIP. I submitted my contact information for Karen’s case and quickly received an email with the intake form that Karen’s husband had already filled out. In it, he explained that he sought help legalizing his wife’s status so that he could be relieved of the stress and worry of his wife being deported while he was deployed. He had sought assistance while stationed abroad, but the Naval legal office, being unfamiliar with the legalization process, referred him to AILA. The couple had been waiting for assistance for over a year and were concerned because Karen’s employment authorization card was set to expire soon. After reading the intake form I quickly confirmed with AILA that I could take on the case, then contacted Karen to introduce myself. I explained that I wouldn’t be able to represent her at her AOS interview but I could prepare a complete application packet for her and would be available to support her by phone and email until her case was completed.
In preparing Karen’s application packet, I learned that she and her husband were high school sweethearts. Although she had DACA, they lived with the fear that she could be detained and removed at any moment. Knowing that this fear was only being compounded by the distance of an ocean between them, we got straight to work. Together, we filled out what we could of the forms over the phone, and I filled in the rest later using documents she scanned and sent to me. It was a quick process, and Karen kept me updated as her receipt and interview notices came in. I am happy to report Karen is now a lawful permanent resident. The deployment of a loved one is already difficult enough to process and live with, so being able to help them obtain peace of mind that at the very least Karen will be safe at home has been incredibly fulfilling for me.
Karen’s case was in San Diego, but I easily helped despite being in Los Angeles, so I had confidence I could take on a case anywhere in the United Sates. Back to the AILA MAP portal for my next case! I came across an active-duty sailor requesting assistance with a removal case for her spouse, David. Despite already having an interview date for his pending AOS, while on his way back from vacation in Puerto Rico, David was detained and issued an expedited removal. He was permitted to return to Chicago, where his wife was stationed, and placed under supervision with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). David and his wife were devastated and confused. They believed they had followed proper protocol by applying for AOS and were shocked that he now had a removal order. They were especially concerned because the time to select new orders was approaching and they were worried David wouldn’t be able to join her. Again, this service member was referred to AILA.
David and his wife were given inconsistent and incorrect information from resources they should have been able to rely on, which made an already stressful situation more harrowing. David’s Deportation Officer (DO) explained to David that he had a pending removal case and would be issued a court date (incorrect because he had an expedited removal and therefore would never receive a court date), but that it didn’t matter anyways since he already had a scheduled AOS interview next month and ICE could close out his case once he received his green card (again incorrect – he was no longer eligible for AOS with a removal order, which had to be resolved before his application could be approved).
David and his wife were devastated when I explained that the final order of removal would prevent his AOS from being approved unless we could get it rescinded. My first step was to reach out to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Puerto Rico, who unfortunately laughed me off the phone in response to my request to rescind the removal order. My next step was to draft a motion to reopen and rescind based on 8 C.F.R. § 103.5, which governs motions to reopen or reconsider DHS decisions (of which CBP and ICE are components), and then contact the CBP Chicago press office. As fortune would have it, the CBP press officer that took our call was a retired Navy Chief and began the process of talking with CBP Puerto Rico on our behalf in hopes of reaching a resolution. Our good fortune continued with the interviewing USCIS officer agreeing to hold off on making any decision in order to allow us time to have the order rescinded. Three months later, I received word from David’s DO, who was very tired of hearing from me, that David’s case had been “canceled” and to “complete all adjudication with USCIS.” I was cautiously hopeful but we still had not heard from anyone at CBP or USCIS, and I could not confirm that the order had been rescinded, just that David no longer had a case with ICE. After six more months with no movement, we contacted David and his wife’s congressional representative for assistance. The congressman’s office was incredibly responsive and helpful. Within a week, someone called to confirm the details of David’s case and was in communication with ICE and USCIS on David’s behalf. About two weeks after that, we received word from the congressman’s office that David’s AOS had been approved and his resident card was in production. David’s case could have easily lasted years without resolution had it not been for the various government actors that came together to find a resolution; a beautiful and inspiring thing to witness during what often feels like trying times. But, it’s also true that if I hadn’t taken on the case, with my knowledge as an AILA member, David and his family would have been far worse off. Our understanding of immigration law and policy is like a superpower we can harness to help these military service members and their families.
This year alone AILA has received over 700 requests from service members, the highest number since MAP was created 15 years ago. The requests from service members have been so overwhelming that AILA has had to set parameters, limiting the program to those of E-6 rank and below. Still, only 220 of those 700+ cases have been matched so far this year. Service members sacrifice so much for all of us. This is an opportunity to give back in a meaningful and personal way. I hope that my experience encourages you to browse the available cases online and take on a case!
If you are an attorney with immigration law experience, but not currently an AILA member, and interested in volunteering, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!