New York Pro Bono Team Helps Detained Immigrant Get Second Chance


New York employment law associate Malak Hamwi and New York pro bono Fellow Eliza Golden successfully represented a detained, low-income immigrant in her application for cancellation of removal, giving her a chance to remain in the United States with her family and make a better life for herself.

The client, a 47-year-old citizen of Panama, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the fall of 2011 following convictions for controlled substance violations, which made her eligible for removal. At that time, the client had resided lawfully in the United States for more than 40 years since her arrival in 1971 at the age of 6. The client had never returned to Panama since her arrival in the United States and had only left the state of New York once during the past 40 years. All of the client’s living family members—three daughters and four grandchildren—were U.S. citizens residing in New York, and the client did not speak Spanish and had no network of any kind in Panama.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides that some permanent resident aliens may be eligible for cancellation of removal if they can establish three statutory eligibility requirements: 1) the individual has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than five years; 2) the individual has resided in the United States continuously for seven years after having been admitted in any status; and 3) the individual has not been convicted of an aggravated felony. If an individual can establish these three criteria, the Immigration Judge must then balance the "social and humane considerations" that weigh for and against the individual and determine whether the exercise of discretionary relief is warranted.

Malak and Eliza were able to produce documentation verifying the client's statutory eligibility, as well as significant evidence demonstrating that the social and humane considerations surrounding the client's situation warranted a positive exercise of discretion, despite her lengthy criminal record stemming from a 20-year struggle with substance addiction. Based on this evidence and the direct testimony of the client and one of her daughters, the Immigration Judge found that the client was deserving of a second chance to stay in the United States with her family and try to make a positive life for herself.

The client was referred to us through the Varick Removal Defense Project run by our pro bono partner, the City Bar Justice Center. If you are a lawyer in New York and are interested in taking on a cancellation or other immigration case, please contace Eliza or Rene Kathawala.