After Years, a Kiss Delivered
Fleeing violence in his home country of Honduras, Martin Bermudez entered the United States without inspection in 1996. He was stopped at the border and placed in removal proceedings. After being released on a bond, Martin moved to New York City. His change of address application did not reach the Immigration Court and Martin was ordered to be deported in absentia.
Martin married and started a family. For years he worked in a supermarket in the Bronx. Life was difficult, but he was proud to be building a future for his three children. There was a great sadness in his life, however. The outstanding order of removal meant that Martin was unable to travel to Honduras to see his mother and large, close-knit family. If he left the U.S., he would be barred from returning.
In 2002, six years after he had left Honduras, Martin decided to seek advice on how to adjust his immigration status. He had the misfortune to turn to International Immigrants Foundation (IIF), an immigration services organization operating in New York City. An IIF attorney told Martin that he had status relief options that he did not in fact have. The attorney repeatedly filed applications that provided no avenue to relief because of the outstanding order of removal against Martin. All his applications were denied and Martin lost thousands of dollars, most of it in attorney’s fees.
In 2010, after an investigation revealed a pervasive pattern of fraud and deception, then New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a lawsuit against IIF. The complaint alleged that IIF along with its sister organization, International Professional Association (IPA), defrauded immigrants with false promises of citizenship, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, illegally charged exorbitant fees for services, and violated laws governing not-for-profit corporations.
After IIF, IPA and New York State agreed to a settlement, the organizations closed operations, and the Attorney General’s office appointed NYLAG to take over the cases of thousands of former clients of IIF/IPA. This was when Martin’s luck began to change.
Irina Matiychenko, Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit, reviewed Martin’s file and began to put together a legal strategy to help him. As a Honduran national, Martin had been granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS), which allows grantees to stay lawfully in the U.S. for a period of time and permits them to secure work permits and social security cards. TPS was established to provide relief to immigrants in the U.S. who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country. Honduras qualified for TPS following a devastating hurricane that struck the country in 1998.
Irina asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) counsel in Texas to join her in a motion to reopen and terminate removal proceedings against Martin. It was not an easy task since Martin had entered the U.S. illegally, but after almost two years she was able to convince ICE counsel that a grant of TPS constitutes legal admission into the U.S. for purposes of adjustment of status. In 2015, the court agreed and Martin’s order of removal was terminated. NYLAG immediately filed the necessary papers and Martin was granted permission to travel abroad.
In January, Martin made the trip to Honduras and saw his mother for the first time in 19 years. When he returned home he called Irina and said he wanted to see her as soon as possible. She assumed he was anxious about his green card, which Irina assured him would be granted very soon. But that was not it.
“I need to deliver something to you,” said Martin, “It’s a kiss from my mother.”