Tara Ammons Cohen doesn’t speak Spanish.Ah, my two worlds collide -- adoption and criminal law! Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an opinion today relevant to deportation of non-citizen defendants. The court held that it is ineffective assistance of counsel for a criminal defense attorney to fail to advise a non-citizen client about potential deportation consequences of a criminal conviction. In this case, the attorney did more than FAIL to advise -- he erroneously told his client that he "did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long." Sheesh.
She hasn’t lived in Mexico since she was 5 months old.
For nearly all her 37 years, she thought she was a U.S. citizen.
Turns out she was wrong, and now she faces deportation to her native country, where she knows no one, doesn’t speak the language and fears for her life.
“I’ve been an American all my life,” Cohen, a mother of three, said recently in an interview at the federal Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats. She has been there since July 2009.
Cohen faces two big problems in trying to stay in the United States.
Under federal law, she is not a U.S. citizen and never was because her American parents didn’t take care of paperwork to make her a citizen when they adopted her as an infant.
And though Cohen is not a citizen, she is a felon – and that set up her deportation with no chance of returning to the United States.
These international adoption cases are not simply a particular individuals's personal tragedy, or just public policy issues about the fairness of visiting the sins of the adoptive parents on the adopted person. They are a reminder for criminal law practitioners that defense counsel may need to ask their clients more probing questions than simply, "Are you a citizen?" And if you ask, "Were you born in the U.S.," an answer of "No, but I was adopted as an infant," means you better ask more questions.