ICE keeps mom, but judge has ideas

An immigration judge in Tacoma ruled Monday that Tara Ammons Cohen must stay in the Northwest Detention Center while she battles to stop her deportation to Mexico.

Cohen, a 37-year-old Omak mother of three, was adopted in Mexico when she was 5 months old and thought she was a U.S. citizen. She was not and was ordered deported in October after she got in trouble with the law.

She has been in the detention center on the Tacoma Tideflats since July.

Cohen appealed the deportation order and was granted a hearing, which took place Monday.

At the hearing, Immigration Court Judge Tammy Fitting said that by law she had no authority to authorize a bond that might enable Cohen to leave the detention center or to overturn the initial decision against granting bond.

Fitting cited the 1996 Immigration and Naturalization Act: “No court may set aside any action or decision by the attorney general under this section regarding the detention or release of any alien or the grant, revocation or denial of bond or parole.”

Cohen was arrested in 2008 on theft and drug trafficking charges. She pleaded guilty and served three months in prison. She was taken into custody by ICE agents when she got out.

Because Cohen wasn’t a citizen or a legal resident, her crimes made her an automatic candidate for deportation.

Cohen’s fight to stay in America is an uphill one. Immigration laws do not recognize adoption as a special circumstance in deportations.

Cohen, who hasn’t been in Mexico since shortly after her birth, doesn’t speak Spanish and said she fears for her safety if dropped off at the border. She also said she worries about her husband and her family.

She appealed her deportation to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which sent the case back to Fitting for further review. The appeals board asked the judge to consider whether the specifics of Cohen’s crimes met the standard for deportation.

A hearing on that review is set for May 11.

During Monday’s hearing Fitting outlined some options for Cohen.

She noted that though Cohen could not be released Monday she can seek a bond by asking ICE for “prosecutorial discretion” in her case.

The judge also told Cohen, who was representing herself because she can’t afford an attorney, that she has a right to a defense attorney at no charge.

After questioning her, Fitting told Cohen she might petition for a U Visa. Such visas are available to non-immigrants who become victims of certain violent crimes in the United States, suffer mental or physical abuse because of the crime and then help in the prosecution of the crime.

Cohen told the judge she suffered post-traumatic stress stemming from a sexual assault when she was 17. She said records of the assault and the aftermath are available if she can get them from California authorities.

If the U Visa is approved, Cohen would qualify for four years of residency in the United States as a non-immigrant. That could lead to a regular visa.

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692