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'I'm scared to be just dropped off at the border'


'I'm scared to be just dropped off at the border'

By Lindsay Cohen & KOMO Staff Published: Apr 20, 2010 at 5:21 AM PST Last Updated: Apr 20, 2010 at 9:15 AM PST

TACOMA, Wash. -- Tara Ammons Cohen was taken from a Mexican orphanage when she was just 5 months old. Her mother hired lawyers, and thought she had legally adopted Cohen.

It wasn't until recently - nearly 30 years after her adoption - that Cohen realized she wasn't an American citizen and, as a result, could be deported at a moment's notice.

"I was just shocked, because I've gone to college. I've paid taxes. It was just...there was no words to even describe it," she said. "This should have been taken care of when I was brought over the border."

Cohen is now a mother of three. Her husband and children live in Omak. But she's not at home with her family these days; for the past nine months, she's been held at a detention center bordered by a barbed wire fence. And the next time she's allowed outside may be the day she's deported from the country she's called home for nearly 37 years.

"I'm an American. I'd die for this country. My brother just got back from Iraq," she said.

Cohen says she didn't know about her illegal status until she ran into trouble in 2007.

She says she had too much to drink one night, and took her neighbor's purse. Cohen was dealing with alcohol abuse at the time, and the purse contained prescription drugs, she said.

"We have similar purses. I walked out of the house with her purse. It was not done on purpose whatsoever. But unfortunately the next morning, I figured out what I had done. I had used her ATM card. I had taken her purse, and instead of doing the right thing, which I should have...I got rid of the purse. And when the cops showed up at my house, I guess I could've lied and said, 'No, prove it,' I said, 'Yes, I did do it,'" said Cohen.

"I do not deny my bad choice. I am not a drug trafficker. I've never sold a drug in my life, but I do not deny that I should have never put myself in that position," she said. "There was never any violence in my crime. Those pills were for personal use. They never saw me selling, delivering any kind of drugs. There was never any money exchanged. I'm not involved in any terrorist group or a gang."

While serving her sentence of 3 months and undergoing drug treatment, Cohen told authorities she was trying to sort out her immigration status. The day she walked out of prison, however, immigration officials were waiting to haul her away.

Now, she's facing the threat of being deported back to her native Mexico. She has no family there, and doesn't speak Spanish.

"I guess that's the reality I don't even want to think about right now," she said. "I'm scared. I'm scared to be just dropped off at the border and (they) say, 'Good Luck.' To me, that's so horrendously inhumane."

Cohen has been acting as her own attorney, because she can't afford to hire one. Her husband, who worked as a logger, lost his job, and money has been tight.

"Anybody that could give us some help would be welcome," she said.

Cohen has already lost her first case, which she has appealed. Her next court appearance is in May. If she loses, she can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. She hopes it never gets that far.

"Our system allows for ample access to due process, and we believe that Ms. Ammons has had that," said Lorie Dankers with Immigrations and Customs Enforcmement. "And we will uphold the judge's ruling, whatever that will be."

As for Cohen, "I have faith in God every day," she said. "I'm not going to say that I don't get up and cry, and I don't want to scream or just look in the mirror and go, 'What were you thinking?'

"Why should these (my) children have to suffer with what their parents didn't do?" Cohen said. "It's not right."

2010 Apr 20