Immigration: Appeals court rules on deportation after kids left unattended

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A decision today by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals could have a positive effect on the deportation case of Imelda Valenzuela Gonzalez, whose story we told in this week's feature, "Out of the Shadows."

The appeals court ruled that an undocumented immigrant named Elia Ibarra should not be considered a child abuser and should be allowed to petition to stay in the country. Ibarra pleaded guilty to leaving her children unattended, the same crime to which Valenzuela Gonzalez pleaded guilty.

Ibarra's case begins in 2004, when she pleaded guilty to one count of "child abuse -- negligence -- no injury." A mother of seven children, Ibarra had been in the United States since she was a young child herself. Though she is undocumented, all seven of her kids were born here, making them U.S. citizens.

The appeals court decision (which is on view below) says that the circumstances leading up to Ibarra's conviction "are not entirely clear, but it appears undisputed that Ms. Ibarra's children were unintentionally left home alone one evening while she was at work." The police were alerted and although no child was injured, Ibarra was charged with negligent child abuse, a low-level misdemeanor.

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In 2008, federal immigration authorities began deportation proceedings against Ibarra. The immigration judge in her case found that while Ibarra had a good argument for remaining in the U.S., given the hardship that her being deported would cause her seven citizen children, her misdemeanor constituted a "crime of child abuse" as defined by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest federal body for interpreting immigration laws. That finding made Ibarra ineligible for "cancellation of removal," which would have allowed her to stay here.

Ibarra appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia, which upheld the judge's ruling. Ibarra then took her case one step further, appealing to the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Denver. Today, a three-judge panel overturned the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals and sent the case back to an immigration judge "for further proceedings in keeping with this opinion."

And what is that opinion, exactly? The appellate judges found that the Board of Immigration Appeals's definition of a "crime of child abuse" is too broad.

Continue for more on the appeals court's decision.


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