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The Terezakis Law Firm
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It’s been 7 years since the Supreme Court ruled, in Padilla v. Kentucky, that it is ineffective assistance for defense counsel to fail to warn their client of the adverse immigration consequences of a proposed guilty plea, and yet, such failures continue to take place with shocking frequency. Unfortunately, the first time many learn their seemingly favorable plea bargain subjects them to deportation – removal, is after they are taken into ICE custody and are facing deportation. Often, the only way for them to avoid being deported is to go back to criminal court and try to vacate their conviction.

This past Friday, our CPL 440.10 motion to vacate our client’s misdemeanor conviction was granted, based on ineffective assistance of counsel. We convinced the Judge and District Attorney’s Office that if prior counsel had been aware the plea he negotiated would subject his client to deportation, he could easily have negotiated an alternate, non-deportable plea. We then negotiated a plea to a lesser offense, and our client is now eligible for cancellation of removal as a non-permanent resident.

In far too many cases, a plea blindly entered into, subjects a lawful permanent resident to deportation, or renders an undocumented client ineligible for cancellation of removal. A major part of our practice involves guiding defense counsel and their clients safely through the immigration minefield; other times, as here, our familiarity with criminal-immigration law enables us to vacate a conviction and so help our clients avoid being deported.

Asylum Win for Honduran Youth Persecuted by MS-13 Gang

People in the U.S. have heard that Central American gangs, like MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, are seizing control of the poorer neighborhoods in their countries. They terrorize the residents, forcing them to make regular extortion payments, which they call “rent”. They rob and kill; they traffic in drugs and rape; they forcibly recruit young people into their gang – all with virtual impunity. Those who do not comply, or seek help from the police, are routinely subjected to vicious beatings, and are often killed.

Our client, then a 15 year old Honduran, refused to join the MS-13 gang, despite threats of retaliation. One day while walking home from school, he could not pay the MS-13 members the money demanded of him, so they beat him to the ground, and began kicking him in the ribs and face. He lay on the ground, looking up as a gang member pointed a pistol at his face, and then heard it fire… He woke up in a hospital: he’d been shot twice, at point blank range - in the neck and through his collarbone. Months later, after recovering, he fled to the safety of the U.S..

Earlier this week, at the conclusion of our trial, a courageous Immigration Judge granted our client asylum. For many young Central Americans, asylum cases rooted in gang persecution are almost impossible to win - but if you present a compelling, well documented case, you show your client’s humanity, and help the Judge feel the terror he experienced looking into the barrel of that pistol – you can beat the odds. As an attorney, when you turn the cogs and work the levers on the machine so that it actually dispenses justice, and provides safety for the vulnerable – it is a great feeling.

The Luckiest Man Alive….
Cancellation of Removal Granted for Firearm Conviction

When he was 8, he was in a horrific auto-crash: his father died, he survived.

When he was 9, he immigrated to the U.S..

At 25, he was broadsided by a car while riding his motorcycle. His femur was exposed, he had multiple fractures, and they had him on a slab in the hospital’s basement morgue: dead. His mom arrived at the hospital shortly after the call to view her son’s body; as she screamed in grief, our client’s brother noticed his finger twitching…a coma! He went on to a full recovery!

Yesterday, at the conclusion of his deportation hearing, an Immigration Judge granted our client cancellation of removal, as a lawful permanent resident, for his conviction for possessing a firearm – also from his early 20’s. Now a grown man in his 40’s, the Judge recognized our client’s rehabilitation, including: his owner-ship of two thriving businesses; real estate holdings; his history of paying taxes; exceptionally close family ties; community service and his support for his mother throughout his life. Here’s to second chances and to keeping families together!

We are currently seeking a motivated attorney who is passionate about immigrant’s rights to join our firm as an Associate Attorney (full-time). We need an experienced, articulate, and hard-working attorney. The Associate Attorney will be expected to make appearances at the Immigration Courts in 26 Federal Plaza and 201 Varick Street, as well as in the Criminal and Traffic Courts in Nassau and Suffolk County. Prior experience with removal defense, family-based immigration, asylum, hardship waivers, and/or criminal law is preferred. Our ideal candidate must be fluent in Spanish and should have at least 3 years’ experience practicing in either Immigration Court or Criminal Court. .N.Y.S. Bar admission required.

If anyone has these qualifications and is interested in joining our team - please send in a cover letter with a current resume to: 

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Last night's lecture for the Suffolk County Criminal Defense Bar: Strategies to Avoid Triggering Deportation for Non-citizen Defendants.
Padilla v. Kentucky mandated defense attorneys advise their non-citizen clients of the adverse immigration consequences of a proposed plea bargain. How can they do it if they themselves don't understand the complex interplay between criminal and immigration law? It was an honor to be asked to share my experience in this field with them. 

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My recent article in the Nassau County Bar Association's Nassau Lawyer on the many benefits of naturalizing.

Convictions Vacated to Avoid Deportation

In the past month, we successfully vacated two criminal convictions for our clients, and as a result, their deportation-removal proceedings will be terminated.

One client lost his Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), because his defense attorney failed to warn him that pleading guilty to a second misdemeanor would render him removable. After pleading guilty, the client was placed into removal proceedings. After we filed a 440 Motion with the Criminal Court, the Judge granted our motion to vacate his conviction, finding that prior counsel’s failure to warn our client of the direct immigration consequences of his guilty plea, violated the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, which requires defense attorneys to warn their clients of the immigration consequences of a proposed guilty plea. The Criminal Court Judge found defense counsel’s ineffective assistance prevented our client from making an informed decision on whether to plead guilty. Our client is now eligible to reapply for Temporary Protected Status, and we will be moving the Immigration Court to terminate his removal proceedings.

In the second case, we vacated our client’s conviction which was entered before the Padilla case was even decided - something that is far more difficult to do. Our client, a Lawful Permanent Resident, pleaded guilty to a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude within the first five (5) years of his admission to the U.S., which triggered his removability. After carefully reviewing the criminal court file, and the plea and sentencing minutes, we discovered a legal error in the court proceedings, which served as a basis to vacate our client’s conviction. We then negotiated with the District Attorney’s Office to plead to a lesser charge, and as a result, he is no longer removable. Not only were we able to save our client from deportation, but he is now eligible to apply become a naturalized citizen.

Our collective experience in the criminal-immigration field allows us to advance creative legal arguments which win even the most difficult cases, cases other attorneys have simply written off as “hopeless”.

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With over 14,000 members, the American Immigration Lawyers Association is by far the largest bar association of immigration lawyers in the country. Every year at their national conference, many thousands of dedicated immigration practitioners gather to review the most recent developments in immigration law, and to discuss cutting edge legal theories relating to defending clients who are facing deportation-removal from the United States. This Friday, June 23rd, 2016, at AILA’s annual conference, held at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, I will be part of a panel teaching newer practitioners the best practices and procedures for defending non-citizens facing deportation in our nation’s Immigration Courts. When the outcome of a hearing determines the course of someone’s life, it is critical defense counsel be familiar with required courtroom procedures and best practices for organizing and presenting evidence to support the client’s claims for relief! I am looking forward to using my 25 years of litigation experience to help train the next generation of immigration advocates.

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At the Federal Bar Association's Annual Immigration Law Conference, teaching criminal and immigration attorneys the complex interplay between these two fields of law, and how best to save their clients from deportation-removal. With Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor and attorney Helen Parsonage
- The "Big Easy Lecture" in New Orleans.
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