By Martin Kidston
A Missoula immigrant facing deportation and separation from her American-born children is now asking a U.S. District Court judge to stop her eviction and dismiss the government’s case against her under a provision reserved for those “suffering a legal wrong” at the hands of a federal agency.
In his request for summary judgment, immigration attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath contends the Department of Homeland Security disregarded the U.S. Supreme Court when it denied Kathleen Benitez-Field’s application to stay in this country under the Violence Against Women Act and the U visa program.
Both are reserved for immigrants in the U.S. under certain circumstances. Haque-Hausrath believes Benitez-Field is entitled to both forms of relief, and he’s asking the court to stay the government’s deportation proceedings.
“It’ll be very clear the federal government violated the law and failed to apply the correct standards,” Haque-Hausrath said Monday. “It’s not as if the federal government has unfettered discretion to deny applications whenever it wants. There are guidelines on how you review applications and determine eligibility.”
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 was subsequently arrested for possessing a fake green card. Haque-Hausrath has argued that she had the card only because King, described by witnesses as a controlling spouse, 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 the conviction represents “a crime of moral turpitude.”
“USCIS must deny your petition as you are unable to show that you possess the requisite Good Moral Character,” a 2013 agency memo states. “You cannot demonstrate Good Moral Character because you have been convicted of an offense that is an aggravated felony and also a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.”
Haque-Hausrath said the agency arbitrarily chose the offense and that its use of Benitez-Field’s guilty plea runs contrary to standards used to analyze criminal convictions.
The government has acknowledged that Benitez-Field “was battered and abused” by King, and that she otherwise meets all the qualifications for relief under the Violence Against Women Act and U visa status.
Still, her deportation remains imminent, barring a stay by the District Court.
“The government wanted to deport her immediately, before the federal court judge had the opportunity to decide the case,” Haque-Hausrath said. “It seems to me, the federal government has been on this track of predetermining this outcome for a while now.”
Earlier this month, Missoula County District Court unsealed documents in the domestic violence case at the request of Haque-Hausrath. The Helena-based immigration attorney is making the case public in hopes of putting pressure on the government to stop Benitez-Field’s 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 justice.
“Having violated the law in numerous ways when denying Kathleen’s applications, the government seeks to immediately deport her to prevent judicial review of its improper actions,” said Haque-Hausrath. “We want a federal court judge to review the government’s decision to see if it applied the correct procedures and application of the law.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org