By Martin Kidston
A Missoula woman facing deportation and separation from her American-born children will receive a public hearing before a U.S. District Court judge this month to determine, in part, if the government erred by denying her application to stay in the country under a number of immigration provisions.
The federal government, however, has asked the court to dismiss the case, saying it lacks jurisdiction in the matter.
Shahid Haque-Hausrath, an immigration attorney representing Kathleen Benitez-Field, of Missoula, said the court must consider whether the government was wrong to deny his client’s application to stay in the U.S. under the Violence Against Women Act and the U visa program.
Under certain circumstances, both provisions are open to immigrants married to U.S. citizens, though the government has denied both forms of relief to Benitez-Field.
“We have a motion pending right now to resolve the merits of that issue, and we believe the court will issue a decision in our favor,” said Haque-Hausrath. “However, the government is moving to deport (Benitez-Field) before the court can make a decision.”
In an order issued last week, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said the court had “serious concerns” about its jurisdiction in the case. He said the court would attempt to resolve the question at a hearing set for Oct. 20 before the opposing parties continue their arguments.
“This approach will preserve the resources of the parties and encourage judicial efficiency,” Christensen said.
In 2010, police responded to a call for assistance after Benitez-Field’s then-husband, Jesse Lane King, assaulted her in a Missoula parking lot. Police reports say the attack left bruising on Benitez-Field’s throat.
While King pleaded guilty to domestic partner/family member assault, he told an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer several days later that Benitez-Field was staying in the country illegally.
Benitez-Field, who is originally from Spain, was subsequently arrested for possessing a fake green card. Haque-Hausrath has argued that she had the card only because King denied her the opportunity to obtain legal status over the five years of their marriage.
In 2011, Benitez-Field pleaded guilty to possessing the fake card. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has since denied her relief under the Violence Against Women Act and the U visa program, saying her conviction represented “a crime of moral turpitude.”
“If the Court determines that it does not have jurisdiction to put (Benitez-Field’s) deportation on hold, then our fight is lost for now,” said Haque-Hausrath. “The government has made it clear that they intend to execute her final deportation order, and once she has been deported, that will prevent her from obtaining relief no matter what the judge decides.”
Last month, Missoula County District Court unsealed documents in the domestic violence case at the request of Haque-Hausrath. The immigration attorney has made the case public in hopes of putting pressure on the government to stop his client’s “unlawful” deportation.
Haque-Hausrath did so despite concerns that the publicity could make Benitez-Field the target of King’s harassment. He believes the government is denying his client due process.
He’s also asking the larger Missoula community to attend the hearing to support his client.
“The purpose of showing community support is not to influence the judge, whose decision will be based purely on the law,” said Haque-Hausrath. “Rather, we hope to send a message to the government stating that we don’t agree with deporting a victim of abuse based on a tip from the abuser, that their priorities are misplaced, and that the least they can do is hold off on deporting (Benitez-Field) until the court can fully consider the case.”
The hearing has been set for 1:30 p.m. On Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Russell Smith Courthouse.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org