NEW YORK, NY (July 7, 2011) —The New York immigration law firm of Bretz & Coven announces major successes in two recent pro bono cases. In one case, a Haitian national finally took the oath to become a United States citizen on July 1, 2011, after Bretz & Coven succeeded in reopening and terminating his deportation proceedings. The other case involves Lebanese parents with a young son suffering from a rare, life-threatening disease. With medicine for the child only available in the U.S., the family could not return to Lebanon when a deportation order was issued. Bretz & Coven filed a request for deferred action for the family that was granted for a two-year period.
Jerry Audige is a Haitian national who took the naturalization oath last week. This is a milestone for his life in the United States that began when he was admitted as a lawful permanent resident on June 18, 1985 when he was six-years-old. His immigration problem developed in 1996 when he pleaded guilty to burglary in the second degree. It was his first and only criminal offense. He was sentenced to 18 months to three years on December 2, 1996. He was only 17. The burglary conviction is classified as an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Consequently, in the matter of Jerry Audige (File A#39-051-832), the immigration judge ordered him deported to Haiti on November 3, 1997. The Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal (File A#39-051-832) on April 30, 1998.
Despite having a final order of removal, Jerry Audige enlisted in the United States Army in January 2000. He saw service in Kuwait and Iraq. While on active duty in Iraq in 2004, he was severely wounded by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. He was awarded a Purple Heart for those wounds and honorably released from active duty in 2005.
After returning to civilian life, Jerry Audige sought advice of New York City immigration lawyers Bretz & Coven. Kerry William Bretz, a senior partner at Bretz & Coven, advised him to retain a criminal defense attorney to pursue post-conviction relief. Accordingly, he hired criminal defense attorney Labe Richman who filed a motion to vacate Mr. Audige’s conviction and sentence in December 2007. Attorney Richman also reached out to the Kings County District Attorney who agreed not to oppose the motion.
The motion alleged that Jerry Audige’s former criminal attorney had failed to inform him of the legal option of seeking youthful offender status and had misadvised him about his eligibility for the shock incarceration program that offers shorter-term sentences for young criminal offenders. At the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Criminal Term: Kings County, the judge in People vs. Jerry Audige (#12023-96) was persuaded by the arguments of the motion. The judge issued an order on September 19, 2008 that vacated the prior judgment and sentence. The attempted burglary conviction was replaced by a youthful offender finding, and the sentence was changed to 364 days in jail. This post-conviction relief nullified the adverse immigration consequences of the prior judgment and sentence.
On the heels of this success in criminal court, Kerry William Bretz offered Jerry Audige pro bono representation. On June 18, 2009, Bretz & Coven filed a proposed joint motion to reopen with the Deputy Chief Counsel’s Office in Castle Point, NY. The motion stated that the conviction that made Jerry Audige deportable had been vacated; that the judgment was replaced with a youthful offender offense that does not render him deportable; and that it was neither an aggravated felony nor a crime involving moral turpitude committed within the first five years of his permanent resident status. Moreover, a request for prosecutorial discretion was made based on Jerry Audige’s meritorious service in the United States Army in Iraq and Kuwait. It was pointed out that he had received a number of awards during his military service, including the Purple Heart.
Nearly a year later, the Deputy Chief Counsel’s Office agreed to join in the motion to reopen. The “Joint Motion of DHS and Respondent to Reopen and Terminate” was submitted to the Board of Immigration Appeals (File # A#39-051-832) on June 1, 2010. In a decision dated July 7, 2010, the Board granted the motion and Jerry Audige’s deportation proceedings were reopened and terminated. The significance of the Board’s decision was that it did not merely eliminate the deportation order. It made Jerry Audige eligible to apply to become a citizen of the United States. His naturalization application was subsequently approved. His naturalization oath ceremony was held last Friday, July 1, at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, NY.
“The law firm of Bretz & Coven, LLP, is proud to have helped Jerry Audige to obtain the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship,” according to Kerry Bretz, a senior partner at Bretz & Coven, LLP. He said Bretz & Coven acknowledges the valuable assistance of Congressman Edolphus Towns and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials exceptionally sympathetic and cooperative. By not executing his deportation order, Jerry Audige was allowed time to obtain post-conviction relief and to reopen and terminate his deportation proceedings.
“It was the right and fair thing to do by all, including ICE, the District Attorney’s office, Congressman Townsend, criminal defense attorney Labe Richman, and us. Bretz & Coven, LLP, is proud to have played such a major role, especially on a pro bono basis,” said Bretz.
The other pro bono case concerns a Lebanese family consisting of Rawi Audi, Dania Tafran, and their son, Omar Audi. They were admitted to the United States on tourist visas in June 2007. A Notice to Appear placing the parents, but not the son, in removal proceedings was issued in April 2008.
In the matter of Rawi AUDI, Dania TEFRAN File A088-428-251/A088-427-497, the immigration judge ordered the parents deported back to Lebanon in a decision dated September 10, 2009. However, during the court proceedings, it came to light in testimony and documents that Omar Audi, then nine, was afflicted with a rare, life-threatening disease called hereditary angiodema.
This incurable disease causes dangerous swellings throughout the body that can result in death. A special medication must be administered every few days to relieve the symptoms. Unfortunately for Omar, this special medication is available in the United States, but not in Lebanon, according to Omar’s parents. Therefore, Omar’s parents faced two unacceptable alternatives: (a) return to Lebanon and leave nine-year-old Omar behind in the United States or (b) take Omar back to Lebanon where he certainly would perish for lack of the medication required for his survival. Consequently, the parents were compelled to fight their immigration case. However, on November 24, 2010, the BIA dismissed their appeal. The family was presently in an extremely desperate situation because there was a final order of removal, they said.
The family consulted Kerry Bretz, a senior partner at Bretz & Coven, LLP, in December 2010. Kerry Bretz accepted the case and volunteered to provide pro bono services. The family said they had sought out the services of Bretz & Coven amidst intense media coverage of its predicament. Two contemporaneous news accounts still accessible on the Internet are provided by CBS News and the New York Post. At the same time, various political figures, particularly New York City Councilman Peter Vallone, made phone calls to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on behalf of the family.
In view of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s longstanding policy of selectively exercising prosecutorial discretion on deportation cases with special circumstances, Kerry Bretz filed a request for deferred action on behalf of Audi (A088-428-251) and Dania Tafran (A088-427-497). A letter from ICE dated January 25, 2011 announced that the couple had been granted deferred action status for two years. This means the couple’s removal from the United States was deferred for two years from the date of the letter, explained Kerry Bretz. At the end of the two-year period, their case would be reviewed again. In a subsequent letter dated May 18, 2011, the couple’s son, Omar Audi (A097-535-221), who was not in proceedings, was also granted deferred action status for the same two-year period.
“It should be noted that a grant of deferred action for two years is unusual, because the norm is one year or less. The compassion and reasonableness shown by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on this case is truly noteworthy,” said Kerry Bretz.
Bretz & Coven is providing additional pro bono services to the family. It has filed a motion to reopen and remand removal proceedings with the Board of Immigration Appeals (File A088-428-251/A088-427-497). Also, it has filed a Petition for Review with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (10-5188-ag). These court filings are still pending today.
Bretz & Coven, LLP is a full-service NYC immigration law firm that practices immigration law in New York City and throughout the United States. The firm’s attorneys serve immigrants who seek the privileges and benefits of U.S. visitation and lawful permanent residence. The firm also defends immigrants in removal and deportation proceedings. The firm has a long and well documented history of making difficult challenges on behalf of immigrants in federal courts and changing, often for the better, the way immigration law is interpreted, according to senior partner Kerry William Bretz.
“Individuals, families, and corporations turn to us when no one else will take the case,” said Kerry Bretz. The firm’s staff speaks more than 20 languages and its attorneys are admitted to practice law in New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, the federal district courts of those states as well as many U.S. Courts of Appeals throughout the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court.