It has been a long and complicated legal journey, but Jose Tapia and his wife Griselda are finally both permanent legal residents of the United States.

Both Jose and Griselda are originally from Mexico, but they have been living in the United States most of their lives. Griselda first came to the United States with her family when she was just eight years old. Jose first came to the United States when he was fifteen, to find work to support himself and his parents.

In California, where both were living, Jose and Griselda met and fell in love. They soon got married and had their first child, Jose Angel, in 1997. In 2004, they had a little girl, Gabriela.

In 1999, after learning of his brother’s death in Mexico, Jose made a brief trip to Mexico to be with his family. Upon Jose’s return to the United States, Jose was caught by immigration officers trying to enter the United States without a visa. Jose was caught four times, each time the Immigration officers briefly interviewed him and turned him back to Mexico.

In 2000, Jose and Griselda consulted with a “notario,” an immigration consultant who unlawfully practices law without a law degree or license. The notario caused Jose and Griselda to be placed in removal (deportation) proceedings.

In danger of being deported to Mexico, Jose and Griselda asked our law firm to represent them before the Immigration Judge. We determined that Jose and Griselda were eligible to apply for Cancellation of Removal, which if granted by the Immigration Judge, would make Jose and Griselda lawful permanent residents of the United States.

Cancellation of removal is a very difficult case to win. To be eligible for Cancellation of Removal, a person needs to show that they are a person of good moral character, do not have particular criminal convictions, that they have been continuously present in the United States for ten years, and that if they are removed, it will cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to their parents, spouse, and or children who are either United States Citizens or lawful permanent residents. It is usually the exceptional hardship that is the most difficult aspect of the case to prove to the Immigration Judge. Most applications for cancellation of removal are denied because the applicant cannot prove exceptional hardship to a qualifying relative.

Back to Mr. and Mrs. Tapia. On May 31, 2002, Griselda’s application for cancellation of removal was approved because the Judge determined that it would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to Griselda’s mother, if Griselda had to return to Mexico. Griselda’s mother suffers from a severe liver disease and Griselda takes care of her.

On that same day, the Judge denied Jose’s application for cancellation of removal. The judge explained that he thought Jose did not qualify because he had been caught by immigration officers at the border and sent back to Mexico.

Our office appealed Jose’s case to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is the appellate body that reviews the decisions of the Immigration Judge. We argued that the fact that Jose was turned around at the border did not break his physical presence and that he was still eligible to apply for cancellation of removal.

The Board agreed with the Immigration Judge, and affirmed the Immigration Judge’s decision. Instead of admitting defeat, Jose hired our firm to appeal the Immigration Judge’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is the largest of 13 Federal Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit governs the law for the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Our firm’s partner, Philip Smith, argued Jose’s case before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals.

Unfortunately, while Jose’s appeal was pending with the Court of Appeals, Jose was required to return to Mexico to await the court’s decision. For almost two years, from May of 2004 until March of 2006, Jose lived in Michoacan, Mexico, while Griselda stayed here with Jose Angel and Gabriela.

On December 6, 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published decision in which it agreed with our position and determined that the Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals had been wrong when they denied Jose an opportunity to apply for cancellation of removal. The Court explained that Jose deserved to have a chance to present his application to the Judge. Because Tapia v. Gonzales is a published decision, it must be followed in all other similar cases in the Ninth Circuit.

Jose was finally allowed to return to the United States on March 14th, 2006, but he still had to ask the Immigration Judge to approve his cancellation of removal application.

Finally, on January 4, 2007, with the assistance of Allison Mosher from our firm, the Immigration Judge granted Jose’s application for cancellation of removal because he determined that Jose’s removal to Mexico would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his lawful permanent resident wife Griselda, and his two United States citizen children.

Today, Jose and Griselda are both lawful permanent residents of the United States. Both will be eligible to apply to become United States citizens after being lawful permanent residents for five years.