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Tara Ammons Cohen still facing deportation


By Stacey Mulick

Tara Ammons Cohen has been handed another setback in her quest to stay in the United States.

The 38-year-old mother found out this week that the federal Bureau of Immigration Appeals had turned down the appeal of her deportation to her native Mexico and denied a request to reopen her case.

Cohen has argued she would be in danger if she is deported. She doesn’t speak Spanish and said she knows no one in Mexico. She said she has mental issues and would be at risk for sexual violence or worse.

“It’s just astounding,” Cohen said Friday from the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats, where she’s been held since July 8, 2009. “I am shocked that they could think somebody in my position is not going to be in danger.”

Cohen was adopted as a 5-month-old by American parents, grew up in California and has never visited Mexico.

Under U.S. immigration law, adoptees such as Cohen do not have automatic citizenship and their adoptions don’t prevent them from being deported, either.

Neither her parents nor Cohen sought naturalization. When Cohen tried to get citizenship as the spouse of an American, she was in trouble with the law and that led to her deportation battle.

Cohen was arrested in 2008 on theft and drug trafficking charges. She pleaded guilty to stealing a purse that contained two bottles of prescription pills and to trafficking, though she never sold any of the pills.

After serving her prison sentence, she was moved to the detention center. Over the past 22 months, she’s been fighting to get out and to return to her husband and two sons in Omak.

Immigration Judge Tammy Fitting first ordered Cohen deported in October 2009. Cohen appealed and won a small victory. The appeals panel said the severity of her drug conviction might not mean her automatic deportation and returned the case to Fitting.

The judge ruled Cohen might not face automatic deportation but said Cohen had to ask for asylum because she is considered a Mexican national. Cohen argued her lack of support in Mexico would put her at risk.

Fitting rejected the argument and, on Dec. 7, again ordered Cohen deported. Cohen and her attorney then appealed to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.

Attorney Manuel Rios, who’s been retained by the Mexican consulate in Seattle, argued Fitting failed to provide any analysis of how conditions in Mexico would affect Cohen. He also asked her case be reopened and submitted a report on the “horrendous conditions” in institutions in Mexico.

Cohen learned Thursday that the appeals panel rejected the argument and she again faces being deported.

Despite the setback, she said she’s not giving up.

“We are still fighting,” she said Friday.

Cohen says she wants to now take her case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Rios said the immediate issue is getting a stay of her deportation so she can remain in the country while fighting her case.

“We have to act immediately,” he said. “We don’t want her to have to go to Mexico and come back.”

Meanwhile, Cohen is applying for a so-called “U visa,” which is available to nonimmigrants who are victims of crime, have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result and have helped, are helping or are willing to help law enforcement and government officials in the investigation of the crime.

Cohen said she suffered post-traumatic stress after a sexual assault in California when she was 17. She helped authorities prosecute the attacker and has since gotten a document to that effect from law enforcement.

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

“The best option hasn’t been used yet and that’s the U visa,” Rios said. “I think we can do this still and that it can be done.”

For now, Cohen bides her time at the Northwest Detention Center. She talks by phone with her mother in California and her husband in Omak.

“I haven’t lost my faith or hope in the Lord that one day I will be home,” Cohen said.

2011 Aug 5