Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Good News For Rodrigo & Edwin: Baltimore Immigration Judge Re-Opens Proceedings, Cancelling Order of Removal

Earlier this year, in a cliff-hanger, Rodrigo Martinez was almost taken into custody and deported to El Salvador. Now, in the first case of its kind involving a married binational couple, an Immigration Judge has reversed her own deportation order in order to give both the DHS and the couple an opportunity to achieve a just outcome, and explicitly to focus on DOMA-related immigration issues. Never before has a binational couple won the re-opening of proceedings on the initiative of an Immigration Judge to address a DOMA deportation.

Edwin and Rodrigo, on vacation this week with their family in Delaware, celebrated the news
that the Order of Deportation against Rodrigo had been cancelled by the Immigration Judge

Rodrigo Martinez and Edwin Echegoyen, a married binational couple, have been fighting for the simple right to live together in this country since 2002. After years of battling the system and exhausting all appeals, they lost. Rodrigo was ordered deported. Determined to stay together, Rodrigo did not leave the U.S. and the couple continued to fight.  They knew that one day the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers would come looking for Rodrigo, but they were not willing to give up, even against such overwhelming odds.

Finally in mid-February 2011, it happened. DHS notified Edwin that they planned to deport Rodrigo by March 9.  Rodrigo and Edwin immediately contacted Stop The Deportations and joined our campaign.  Then, on February 23, the President and Attorney General announced that they would no longer defend DOMA because they had determined that it was unconstitutional.  After 8 years together, Rodrigo and Edwin married on March 1 and demanded that the U.S. government respect their marriage by putting any deportation action against Rodrigo on hold. This effort was temporarily successful at stopping the physical deportation of Rodrigo on March 9 and it paved the way for the major development detailed below that brings new hope to this couple that their battle to stay together might finally be over.

Today we can share with you the news that Baltimore Immigration Judge Lisa Dornell has ordered that Rodrigo's case be re-opened. In doing so, the judge has canceled the deportation order that had been entered against him in November 2008. Instead he will return to court on September 12, 2011 for re-opened proceedings.

Judge Dornell, who had ordered Rodrigo deported in 2008, has now decided, on her own accord, that it is "in the interest of justice" to re-open proceedings and to give Rodrigo another opportunity to win protection from deportation. Specifically, Judge Dornell has re-opened proceedings (1) to determine whether Rodrigo is eligible for protection from deportation because of country conditions in El Salvador for gay men and (2) to determine the relevance, to this case, of any change in policy or law impacting married gay binational couples with pending green card petitions.

In a footnote the Judge also advised the parties to be prepared to address the DOMA immigration issues

Because Rodrigo was ordered deported in 2008, this action by the Immigration Judge is a tremendous victory.  This is the first time that efforts by Stop The Deportations have succeeded in reversing a final order of removal and re-opening proceedings.

Brief History of This Case

Last March Edwin Echegoyen was ordered to surrender his husband, Rodrigo Martinez, to the Department of Homeland Security on March 9, so that they could execute an outstanding final Removal Order against him. Edwin was facing certain deportation to El Salvador. As readers of this blog may recall, we stopped that deportation with a multi-pronged advocacy campaign focusing on Maryland's two U.S. Senators and the couple's represenative in Congresss, Chris Von Hollen. We also reached out to the Deportation and Removal Branch and gave them ample opportunity to review the facts of this case. Edwin and Rodrigo have been together for 8 years. Days after the President announced that he would no longer defend DOMA because he had determined that it was unconstitutional, Edwin and Rodrigo traveled to Washington DC from their house is in a suburban Maryland county, and married across the street from the D.C. Superior Court. Edwin immediately filed a "green card" petition for Rodrigo on the basis of their marriage. We worked to persuade the Deportation and Removal Branch in Baltimore to rescind the Surrender Notice, but failed. DHS required that Rodrigo surrender and would not tell us in advance how they would decide this case. The media was tremendously helpful in bringing to a wider audience the plight of a married binational couple bring torn apart by a DOMA deportation. Rodrigo and Edwin went to the Federal Building that morning with a local television news crew and none of us knew whether he would be permitted to leave or if he would be taken into custody. We were all able to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate another small victory when Rodrigo emerged safely, given the right to stay in the United States with an order of supervision. We filed a Motion to Reopen proceedings on the basis of worsening conditions in El Salvador for gay men, and on the basis that circumstances had changed because of his marriage to his U.S. citizen husband, Edwin.

On March 7, the same Immigration Judge ordered a "stay of removal" temporarily preventing the Department of Homeland Security from carrying out the existing "final removal order." Now, almost four months later, the Immigration Judge has wiped that existing final removal order from the books. Rodrigo was ordered deported in 2008, but this move effectively cancels that order, and replaces it with new proceedings and a new day in court that will allow Rodrigo and Edwin to continue the fight for full equality and work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys to achieve the outcome that best protects them in the short term.

Coming on the heels of Josh and Henry's victory last week, this news is cause for celebration. It involves a far more complicated procedural posture than our previous cases and the unprecedented action by the Immigration Judge to reverse herself by re-opening the case demonstrates that fighting DOMA in Immigration Court and in the court of public opinion is yielding important incremental victories on the way to full equality.

Join us in congratulating Rodrigo and Edwin as they now look forward to finally putting this entire matter to rest beginning with a status hearing on September 12, 2011.

Chris Geidner writing at Metro Weekly reports on today's news and draws connections between developments for binational married couples fighting DOMA and the administration's surprise 31-page filing against DOMA (and against Congress's own attorneys) in support of the plaintiff in the Golinski case on Friday. See: "Interest of Justice" Leads Immigration Judge To Reopen Case, Ask About "Same-Sex Spouses" and Visas.

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