Smart Lawyering Moves Marine Veteran from Potential Deportee to U.S. Citizen Column

"A young man who grew up in Lake County [Cal.] and faced a deportation battle last year celebrated becoming a United States citizen on Friday.  Carlos Solorzano took the oath of citizenship in US District Court in Anchorage, Alaska. Solorzano's immigration attorney, Margaret Stock, described his mood as “ecstatic.”  That important milestone, Solorzano told Lake County News on Friday afternoon, came “after a long and pretty tough fight.”  Aiding him in that fight was Stock.  A retired lieutenant colonel in the Military Police, US Army Reserve, and a former West Point law professor – Stock isn't just tough and talented, she's considered a national expert in the highly complex world of immigration law.  Last September, she was named a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, receiving one of the foundation's coveted “genius grants.”  Solorzano, 28, was born in Mexico and came to the United States with his family when he was 1 year old, growing up in Lake County and attending Lower Lake High School. In that time, he became a permanent US resident through a green card.  He went on to serve three years in the US Marines.  During his service, he was involved in a bar fight in Virginia Beach, Va., on New Year's Eve 2006.  He said he was defending himself, however he found himself being charged and convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery.  In that case, Solorzano didn't have a lawyer; Virginia state law doesn't require that defendants be provided with criminal defense.  He spent two days in custody, was sentenced to 365 days in jail and had all but two days of that sentence suspended, with the case settled with time served.  What he didn't know at the time was that the way the case was handled set the stage for a potential deportation threat later.  That's exactly what happened in late 2012.  Solorzano – who now lives in Alaska – was returning to the United States in December 2012 from a trip to Mexico when border agents flagged him.  He was allowed to reenter the United States, but only on probationary status.  The problem, said Stock, was that while Solorzano's conviction was a misdemeanor, immigration law allows for such convictions to be interpreted as “aggravated felonies,” which are deportable offenses.  Stock said that there also has been an increased push in the US government's pursuit of deportation cases, which she told Lake County News in a previous interview resulted from a combination of more stringent interpretations of immigration law and redefined criminal law terminology.  For Solorzano, that led to the scheduling of a February 2013 hearing in Anchorage in which he faced the potential to be deported from the United States, the country he considers his home.  When he arrived for that hearing, however, the federal officials backed off, and he was formally readmitted to the United States.  He then began the process, aided by Stock, of pursuing full US citizenship.  That process wasn't free of more obstacles.  Solorzano said he was rejected for citizenship once during the ensuing naturalization process, with the interpretation of his misdemeanor conviction again coming up as an aggravated felony.  He said that rejection was a matter of federal immigration officials failing to gather and consider all of the information in his case.  More recently, there was still some excitement, as Stock termed it, when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office director told her that they believed Solorzano was an aggravated felon and didn't want to approve his application.  “But after some legal wrangling, they agreed with me that he was not an 'aggravated felon' and naturalized him,” she said in a Friday email.  Solorzano credited Stock with helping him receive his US citizenship, acknowledging that had it not been for her he didn't know where he would be now.  Stock said she was very pleased with the outcome to Solorzano's case.  “But it was a lot of hard work.”  She continued, “That’s one of the biggest problems with our immigration system right now – the laws are so complicated that often the immigration agencies do not understand them, and they wrongly try to deport people (and deny them US citizenship) when they should not.  And often the immigrants do not have lawyers.”" - Elizabeth Larson, Apr. 25, 2014.

From left, immigration attorney Margaret Stock, new United States citizen Carlos Solorzano, U.S. Senior Judge H. Russel Holland of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska and Solorzano's wife, Danielle White, at a naturalization ceremony in Anchorage, Alaska, on Friday, April 25, 2014. Photo courtesy of Carlos Solorzano.