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Seventh Circuit Orders Removal of LPR Immigrant Who Mistakenly Thought He Was a US Citizen

gavel-1017953_640The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the petition for review of removal by Julio Estrada Hernandez, a lawful permanent resident found guilty of drug-related and illegal firearms offenses. After an immigration judge (IJ) and the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected his efforts to avoid removal, Hernandez turned to the Court of Appeals as a last resort, but to no avail.

Case Background

Hernandez is a 34-year-old Mexican citizen, who, as a small child, entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant with his mother. The mother and son eventually obtained lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in 1989, when Hernandez was seven. At the age of 16, his mother became a naturalized citizen, but a flaw in the immigration and naturalization process prevented her citizenship from automatically conferring to her son, as it would under normal circumstances.

Hernandez could obtain citizenship through parentage in one of two ways:

  • His parents (his mother had married but eventually separated) had to obtain citizenship before he turned 18
  • They would have to separate legally

Neither scenario happened.

History of Criminal Offenses

As Julio Hernandez grew into an adult, he became involved in a string of state crimes. In the course of the next 15 years, he would commit three separate controlled substance violations, two retail theft crimes, and a felony for illegal possession of a firearm.

It did not take long for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to connect the dots between Hernandez’s criminal conviction record and LPR status. ICE immediately initiated removal proceedings against him in January 2015 on the grounds of being a removable alien and having several criminal offenses in the United States.

At his removal hearing, the immigration judge told Hernandez he had a right to legal representation and asked if he wanted to secure counsel before proceeding with the case. Hernandez asked why he was being detained, pointing out that he was a naturalized citizen. After some digging, the IJ eventually learned Hernandez had not obtained citizenship through his parents.

Application for Asylum Offered

However, the IJ also gave Hernandez a chance to avoid removal, asking if he was afraid of being harmed during his return to Mexico, in which case he could continue the case and allow him to apply for asylum. Hernandez, however, declined, prompting the IJ to issue an order for removal.

At this point, Hernandez sought counsel, but it was too late—the Board of Immigration Appeals had already affirmed the immigration court’s decision. This forced Hernandez to use his last option: a petition for review of removal on the grounds of being denied legal representation. The Seventh Circuit dismissed this claim as baseless, as the record shows he was asked several times if he wished to seek counsel at no cost to the government.

Cases like these are a reminder never to take immigration law in this country lightly. If you or anyone you know is facing a similar situation, consult the immigration law experts of Lyttle Law Firm. Learn about your rights by calling our offices at 512-215-5225 or by visiting our website.