Without a country | CraigDailyPress.com

Without a country

Craig woman faces deportation, possible jail time

Michelle Balleck
To help the Landas, make checks payable to the Al and Rita Landa Legal Defense Fund, and mail them or drop them off at the Moffat County National Bank, 435 Mack Lane.

Rita Landa, an illegal immigrant who has lived in Craig for many years, has been detained on immigration charges and faces deportation to Mexico.

Landa’s husband, Alvaro “Al” Landa, is a permanent resident, and their two daughters are U.S. citizens.

The Landas traveled to Denver on Aug. 10 for an interview with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The Landas thought the interview was part of the process in helping Rita obtain temporary residency status. Instead, the couple was separated quickly. Al later was told that Rita was being detained and that she would not be allowed to leave with her husband. Rita is being held at the Aurora Detention Center.

“Supposedly, they were going to fingerprint her,” Al said. “And she never came back. I thought I heard handcuffs being put on her, but I don’t know.”

The Landa family has lived in Craig for many years, mostly as illegal immigrants. Al crossed with his family in 1979, but he did not become a permanent resident until last year.

He met Rita here, and the couple has been together for more than 12 years. They lived together until Al got his green card, and then they married on May 8, 2004. The two then decided to apply for Rita’s temporary residency, the intermediate step before permanent status. Their daughters, Abigail, 11, and Jerzey, 4, were born here.

Al said he was nervous about interview with ICE.

“I was happy we finally got the interview,” Al said, “but in the back of my mind, I had that little glitch. I blocked it out and was hoping for the best.”

He never anticipated he would lose his wife.

Originally, Al said, the charges included Rita using fake identification to claim she is a U.S. citizen. Those charges were dropped after further investigation, Al said.

Now she’s being held on previous deportation charges, said attorney Heide Bryan with Lichter & Associates, a Denver-based immigration law firm.

“Unfortunately,” Bryan said, “there’s very little, legally, that we can do for her.”

Rita was deported in 1998 and sent back to her home in Degollado, a town in the Mexican state of Jalisco. A few months later, she tried to re-enter and was stopped by Border Patrol. That counts as two deportations, Al said.

Because she is detained again, she could be deported and not legally allowed in the United States for 10 years. She also could face jail time on felony charges, but Bryan is hoping that’s not the case.

“I haven’t heard anything about them charging her criminally yet,” she said.

She expects Rita to be deported soon, but she said the ICE typically does not release the date of the transfer. ICE spokespersons were unavailable for comment.

At this point, Bryan said the firm has no plans to fight the decision and is waiting for the release of Rita’s ICE file. Her case is helped by being married to a permanent resident, but because this is her third offense, she does not have the right to speak to a judge.

“There’s not really much we can do at this point in terms of keeping them from taking her out of the country,” Bryan said.

Unfortunately, she added, the 10th Circuit, which Colorado is in, has stricter laws about cases such as this than other circuits.

But the real tragedy, Bryan said, is the effect the detainment is having on Rita’s family.

“She has been living here, working here for many years, and who’s this punishing?” she said. “It’s her kids. It’s the 4-year-old and 11-year-old who don’t have a mom.”

The Rev. Jim Fox is doing what he can to help the Lan–das, loyal parishioners at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. “We’re going to try to work the church angle,” he said.

He’s looking for support through Catholic charities and has contacted the office of U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo. His staff said the best scenario would be a full ICE schedule.

“The only hope, they said, is that they’re too busy and say, ‘Go home,'” Fox said.

Pres Askew also has contacted Salazar, as well as his brother, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., with background information and is awaiting a response.

“We’re approaching our representatives at the federal level to see if they can help us,” Askew said. “I don’t know how much good this does, we’re just doing our best.”

Locally, he has set up an account, the Al and Rita Landa Legal Defense Fund, to help the family.

Abigail is a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Craig, and Al is on the board of directors. As president of the organization, Askew wants to help the family.

“It’s a shame to break up any family with the loss of a mother,” he said.

He understands Rita violated an immigration law, but thinks there should be an alternative to splitting up the family.

The Landas, Fox said, are active members of the Craig community. He is hoping some compromise will bring Rita back to Craig and back to her family.

“We understand the post-9/11 climate has changed,” Fox said. “Understandably, we have to take care of people who are a threat, but I don’t think Rita’s going to be much of a threat for crying out loud.”

Al said the girls were out of town with their uncle when their parents went to Denver. Their absence for a few days after Al’s return was an eerie reminder of what life could be like if Rita is deported — quiet.

Abigail understands what’s happening, but Jerzey is still too young.

“Sometimes she cries, ‘Where’s Mommy?'” Al said. “What can I tell her? ‘She’s with a friend. She’ll be back in a little bit.’ But she knows something’s wrong.”

Even if Rita is forced back to Mexico, Al said he’s not relocating his family. The girls want to be with their mom, but moving to Mexico is not an option. She has family there still, but all of Al’s relatives have moved to the states.

“There’s nothing down there for me,” he said. “I’ve worked too hard to make this country my home. I guess I’ll just battle it out here.”

Michelle Perry may be reached at 824-7031 or mperry@craigdailypress.com

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