Failure is Not an Option

The Colombian parents of Haley brought her illegally into the country when she was one year old. The family converted from Catholics to Pentecostals. Fearing harm if they returned to Colombia, the parents applied for asylum with the Immigration Service. The parents’ case was denied, first by Immigration and then by the Immigration Court. However, they remained in the country undetected for many years.

Haley, of course, continued to think of herself as an American schoolgirl. She excelled in her studies and would have gone to college but for her illegal status. In fact, she married her U.S. citizen boyfriend. Nevertheless, with few exceptions, the law prohibits foreigners who entered illegally from becoming legal based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. This illogical quirk allows someone fresh off a plane to become a resident while someone who has been living here for over a decade cannot.

Haley came to my office in 2004 after one of her uncles was murdered by guerillas in Colombia. She wanted legal status so she could go on to college without having to return to her parents’ country. Three attorneys advised that asylum would be impossible because of the one-year deadline. They were right to caution her. When we applied, Immigration denied her case for that very reason.

Her hearing before a judge who would decide whether to deport her was set. The month before the hearing, another of Haley’s uncles was tortured and murdered by the guerillas. When I thought of Haley suffering that way, the phrase came back to me, “Failure is not an option.” Our office filed over 300 pages of evidence and legal arguments. We prepared the client and her husband for the hearing twice. Because Haley never suffered any past harm in Colombia, victory depended on demonstrating that she would be harmed in the future based on her religion if she returned. Fortunately, the judge interpreted the facts and the law in our favor.

Haley’s case was won because of her specific personal circumstances. This information is not intended as legal advice, because immigration law and the regulations used to apply them change frequently.