A 38-year-old Omak woman who moved to the United States as an infant and never left won a partial victory against her deportation Wednesday in U.S. immigration court in Tacoma.
Immigration Court Judge Tammy Fitting ruled the criminal convictions that got Tara Ammons Cohen in trouble with immigrations officials three years ago are not serious enough to automatically deport her. That was only one hurdle cleared for Cohen, the mother of three children. She still faces deportation as an illegal alien because her adoptive parents did not fill out the proper paperwork to have her declared a U.S. citizen when they brought her into the country from Mexico when she was an infant. Cohen continues to fight that.
She ran afoul of immigration authorities in 2007 when she pleaded guilty in Okanogan County Superior Court to theft and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. She admitted stealing a neighbor’s purse and taking three bottles of prescription drugs inside to possibly sell or use.
Cohen never sold any of the pills but pleaded guilty to the trafficking charges in a deal with prosecutors that allowed her to avail herself of services offered by Okanogan County drug court, including substance-abuse treatment.
Ryan Kahler, an attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, argued Wednesday that those crimes were serious and that Fitting should not grant an exception to federal rules requiring deportation of aliens convicted of aggravated felonies.
Fitting sided with Cohen on that one.
Cohen and her attorney, Manuel Rios, then tried to convince the judge that deporting Cohen on her underlying immigration status would be a bad idea because she’d face persecution in Mexico.
Cohen testified she does not speak Spanish, has no family support in Mexico and fears she wouldn’t be able to get treatment for her mental illnesses if she’s deported. She also told Fitting she’s afraid she’d be ostracized at best and brutalized at worst in Mexico.
“I look white. I was raised an American,” she said. “My culture is American.”
Rios told Fitting so-called “migrant women” living in Mexico have a 60 percent chance of being physically abused.
Kahler said Cohen’s arguments amount to speculation. He pointed out that she has no direct knowledge about conditions in Mexico and doesn’t know for a fact that she couldn’t get treatment for her illnesses there.
Fitting took the arguments under advisement and is expected to issue a ruling later this fall.
Rios continues to try to get Cohen a special visa that would allow her to stay in the United States. She remains confined in the Northwest Detention on the Tideflats – where she’s been since July – while her case plays out.
Cohen’s husband, Thomas Lee Cohen Jr., drove to Tacoma from Omak on Wednesday to attend his wife’s hearing.
“I can go home and be happy for a while,” he said after court.