A former prosecutor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington State was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in prison after forging a document in order to deport a Mexican construction worker.
Although the former prosecutor, Jonathan M. Love, has now pled guilty and been sentenced, there was a period of nearly 22 months during which the government had incontrovertible evidence the document was forged but did not act.
"Not just one, but several government entities were put on notice that something really foul had happened, yet didn't do anything about it," said Glenda Aldana Madrid of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, which is representing Ignacio Lanuza, the construction worker, in a suit against the government.
Love's sentence also includes one year of supervised release, 100 days of community service, $12,000 in restitution for Lanuza, and prohibition from practicing law for 10 years.
In 2009, when Lanuza was facing deportation, Love submitted a document in immigration court purporting to show that Lanuza had voluntarily returned to Mexico on January 13, 2000, waiving his right to a hearing. If true, this would have disqualified Lanuza from applying for cancellation of removal, a form of deportation relief that requires having lived in the U.S. for ten continuous years.
But several key parts of the form, including the date of Lanuza's alleged departure, were forged, according to a forensic report later commissioned by his lawyers. Moreover, the document was on letterhead from the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that did not exist in 2000, when the form was ostensibly signed.
At the time, neither the immigration judge nor Lanuza's lawyer noticed the forgery. Lanuza, who says he had no reason to question the integrity of the government's claims, wondered whether he had signed a form in 2000 that he hadn't fully understood. It wasn't until February 2012, after Lanuza's original lawyer died and he tried to appeal the case with new counsel, that the forgery was discovered.
At that point, Lanuza's new lawyers commissioned the forensic report concluding that the form was falsified and submitted it to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which agreed to reopen Lanuza's case on April 20, 2012. An immigration judge later stopped Lanuza's deportation and gave him a green card.
It is unclear whether the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, reported Love's misconduct to Homeland Security when it was first discovered. However, in two separate court filings related to Lanuza's civil suit, government attorneys acknowledge that DHS did not begin an investigation until after February 13, 2014, when the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project first filed suit — nearly one year and ten months after EOIR first saw the forensic report concluding that the document was forged.
Neither EOIR nor ICE would comment on the specifics of Lanuza's case, or answer questions about whether or when the misconduct was initially reported. An EOIR spokesperson emailed, "While the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) cannot comment on evidence or other specific details of the case to which you refer, as a general matter, if the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has reason to believe that any of the parties to a case before the BIA had, or are, engaged in misconduct, the BIA would refer pertinent information on the matter to EOIR's Office of General Counsel."
"ICE has zero tolerance for civil servants who abuse their authority," a spokesperson for the agency said in an email. "ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an exhaustive investigation into this matter, interviewing dozens of witnesses and reviewing numerous case files, to ensure no other instances of improper conduct were involved."
For his part, Lanuza is relieved to see one more part of his ongoing legal legal battle come to an end. "I couldn't tell you what motivated him to do this," Lanuza said in Spanish of the forgery. "But in the end, he did it."
David Noriega is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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