U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this week agreed to grant deferred action to Jordana Vera, a New Jersey student who was detained for nine months and nearly deported based on evidence the government later admitted did not exist.
"I am extremely relieved and happy to be home with my family and focusing on what's next,” Ms. Vera said upon receiving the news. “I really want to thank everyone who supported me, who signed the petition and called on my behalf and helped me get to this point today. I hope that the laws change soon so that no one ever has to go through the terrible experience I went through to get here."
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a request for prosecutorial discretion on behalf of Ms. Vera earlier this month. “We are relieved that Jordana has achieved some justice and, for the time being, is safe from deportation to a country she does not know,” said NIJC Associate Director of Litigation Claudia Valenzuela. “But it is startling how close the government came to an egregious miscarriage of justice, and it is troubling that the Court of Appeals gave the government the full benefit of the doubt despite the lack of evidence against Jordana. It took a team of lawyers, vigorous advocacy by DREAM Act youth, and extraordinary courage by Jordana to stop her deportation—a shameful expenditure of resources to ensure justice for a young woman the government should not have been trying to deport in the first place.”
The New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), which led a national campaign to stop Ms. Vera’s deportation and win her release from detention, responded to the news of Ms. Vera’s reprieve: “The New York State Youth Leadership Council is pleased to announce that Jordana received deferred action after an undocumented youth led Education Not Deportation (END) campaign,” said Daniela Alulema of NYSYLC. “After ICE wrongly kept her in jail for nine months, Jordana finally receives the relief she deserves. We call on ICE and the Obama administration to halt the deportation and detention of undocumented youth, such as Jordana, and use their administrative authority to keep families together."
Ms. Vera was brought to the United States from Argentina when she was 12 years old. In July 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers came to her New Jersey home in search of another individual, but questioned and detained Ms. Vera instead. Ms. Vera clearly meets the government’s own definition of an individual who should be considered “low priority” for deportation. Nonetheless, the government pursued her removal based on a claim that she had overstayed a visa she allegedly acquired under the Visa Waiver Program, which requires individuals to waive their rights to challenge deportation before they enter the country. Ms. Vera, who did not know the details of how she and her family had entered the United States when she was a child, was forced to appeal her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Even though ICE failed to produce any evidence that Ms. Vera or her parents had actually entered under the Visa Waiver Program, the court favored ICE’s argument that Ms. Vera had no right to challenge her removal.
NIJC and NYSYLC intervened in Ms. Vera’s case to demand her release and call for a rehearing. ICE finally released Ms. Vera from detention in April 2012. Weeks later, the agency admitted that it had no evidence Ms. Vera had entered under the Visa Waiver Program or waived her right to challenge her deportation. This week, the government agreed to defer deportation proceedings against Ms. Vera for at least one year.
In addition to NIJC, attorney Camille Mackler, and attorneys from Jones Day have provided pro bono representation in Ms. Vera’s case.