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UMCOR attorney wins immigration appeal

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The Rev. Paul Dirdak
July 14, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — An attorney for the United Methodist Committee on Relief has won an appeal from the nation’s highest immigration court for a native of Guyana who is a U.S. citizen.

T.J. Mills, the attorney, said the decision was particularly important “because some people who have been deported to Guyana now may return to the U.S. as full citizens.”

UMCOR’s immigration ministries include Justice For Our Neighbors, a national network of church-based, volunteer-led immigration clinics that assist asylum seekers and immigrants in navigating the maze of rules and laws that affect their lives in the United States.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR’s chief executive, said he is heartened by Mills and other attorneys doing immigration work for UMCOR on a modest budget “who take on the entire system on behalf of some extraordinary voiceless or silent people.”

The attorneys “bring to the attention of the judiciary system” errors or problems with interpretations of U.S. law, he pointed out.

Such work is carried out “in an organized, intelligibly clean way, insisting on being heard when it is lawful to be heard and pursuing cases despite setbacks,” Dirdak explained.

Mills’ client in the appeals case was Lawrence Rowe, 30, born in Guyana to parents who never married. He became a permanent resident of the United States in 1986. The U.S. government initiated removal proceedings against him in February 2005 and he had been jailed for more than a year.

For Rowe, the issue was “whether the respondent is entitled to derivative citizenship because his paternity has not been established by legitimation under Guyanese law…,” according to the June 29 decision issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. Department of Justice.

Rowe claimed such citizenship under former Section 321(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, specifically the part stating that a child born outside the United States could become a citizen with “the naturalization of the mother if the child was born out of wedlock and the paternity of the child has not been established by legitimation.”

The appeals board found “it is undisputed that the respondent was born out of wedlock and that both his admission to the United States as a lawful permanent resident and his mother’s naturalization occurred prior to his 18th birthday…”

After considering related cases and Guyanese law, the Board of Immigration Appeals found that because his parents had never married, “…his paternity was not established through legitimation.”

The board agreed that he obtained citizenship when his mother became a naturalized citizen and terminated the removal proceedings.

Two years ago, Mills won a case for a Burmese asylum seeker, Mang Hau Khup, who had fled to Guam to avoid arrest for his activities as a Christian pastor. Khup, one of a thousand displaced Burmese who were given a one-time visa waiver to Guam, had initially been declared ineligible for asylum and sentenced to prison by the U.S. government.

UMCOR secured his release from jail. A July 16, 2004, ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California directed the lower court to reconsider Khup’s petition in light of “well-founded fear” of both past and future persecution.

While immigration reform remains a priority for the relief agency, Dirdak noted that working within the current process of law also is important. He called the attorneys attached to the immigration clinics “some wonderful, unsung heroes in the practice of the law.”

Contributions to Justice For Our Neighbors, which operates in partnership with the denomination’s annual (regional) conferences, can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 901285, JFON. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card donations can be made by calling, toll free, (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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