When Colombian-born Sascha Herrera sought to join her parents in the United States on a visitor visa in 2003, she believed that she was doing so legally. The Perils of Legal Immigration

When Colombian-born Sascha Herrera sought to join her parents in the United States on a visitor visa in 2003, she believed that she was doing so legally.

As her visa was expiring, she went to a "notario" referred by a friend to apply for an extension, at a cost of $1,300. 

Notario, in Spanish, means lawyer, but common usage in this country refers to an "immigration consultant," many of whom are not lawyers.  The fraud and abuse by some notarios, who prey on immigrants, has become part and parcel of our already gigantic and growing immigration problem.

For her part, Herrera soon became suspicious of the notario she had hired, but only after signing an asylum petition that he had recommended.

Thereafter, in 2004, she became a student at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, eligible for a student visa, and believed she had dismissed the notario.  In addition, last year, she met and married Georgia State Senator Curt Thompson, who filed a petition on her behalf for permanent residency, although a hearing on that petition is yet to be heard.

Unfortunately for Herrera, the notario had already filed the asylum request without telling her, listing his address as hers.  When repeated notices of her asylum hearing went unanswered, a deportation order was issued, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents sought to notify her at her home in Norcross, Georgia on November 28, 2006.

Herrera, absent at the time, went into hiding for days after being told of the ICE visit by her husband, finally turning herself in on December 5.  While her husband and her lawyer dispute her absence as hiding, and her husband appears to have had no prior knowledge of any immigration issue, she nonetheless eluded authorities for days, out of what she has now described as abject fear of going to jail for issues about which she had no knowledge.

Later on December 5, her fears were, at least temporarily, allayed.  Government immigration lawyers did not oppose reopening her case, and immigration judge William A. Cassidy released her, practically voiding the deportation order, to continue her quest for legal residency.

Sascha Herrera Thompson appears to be exactly the type of person for whom our legal immigration policies are set up.  As far as she knew, she did everything she should have done to obtain and maintain legal status.  She is pursuing a master's degree in professional writing.  She's an associate editor of a local magazine.  She's active in community life.

As a state senator, Curt Thompson represents one of the most diverse populations in Georgia and was an activist opponent of Georgia's tough new law on illegal immigration, which, perhaps ironically, attempts to regulate the abuses of the notarios who victimize unsuspecting immigrants (among a host of other measures), as in the case of Thompson's wife.

December 6, 2006
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