Ezekiel’s 11th Hour

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Negligent counsel led Ezekiel to face an unexpected, and imminent, deportation. Can Central Washington JFON get the order rescinded and his asylum case back on track? 


Phoenix, Arizona, Spring 2019:

He made a lot of promises, but not a lot of effort.

Ezekiel sat across from his private attorney in Phoenix and tried to explain his family’s situation as succinctly as he could. The attorney was expensive, and they really couldn’t afford him. Ezekiel didn’t want to take up too much of his time.

But where to start? Ezekiel’s life had undergone such dramatic changes that it was dizzying to contemplate. He had begun as the owner of a small restaurant in Mexico with a stable income and good prospects. And then he fell in love with Bianca. He proposed marriage and began making ambitious plans for a family to include Bianca’s two young children.

But Bianca was the estranged wife of a vengeful cartel member. And he wasn’t about to let her go.

The family escaped to another part of Mexico, but they were soon discovered by the cartel and the ex-husband. When Ezekiel asked the police to help them, he was told there was nothing they could—or would—do to save them.

Mexico is a large country, but not large enough if you are trying to hide from one of the omnipresent cartels.

The family fled again—this time to the north. They made the arduous crossing through the border to Arizona—Ezekiel, Bianca, her two kids, and their own baby on the way.

He told his story, and the attorney agreed to take his asylum case. Meanwhile, he needed a job to support his growing family. He heard from friends that there was plenty of work on the farms and agricultural processing plants of Washington State.

It’s true that the work is only seasonal, they told him. But life is good here. People are nice, and the kids will be happy.

“Not a problem; I’ll take care of it,” his attorney told him when Ezekiel revealed his plan to move. “I’ll have the venue changed so you don’t have to come back to Phoenix.”


Central Washington State, Fall 2019:

“I want to make sure my family can live our lives without having to look over our shoulders every minute of the day”

“He was terrified,” Central Washington JFON staff attorney Max Olarsch says of his first meeting with Ezekiel. “Frankly, I was terrified for him as well.”

After months of repeatedly trying to contact his Phoenix attorney and being ignored, Ezekiel finally called the EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) hotline himself. Instead of information about an upcoming hearing, he was shocked to learn that he had been ordered removed in absentia.  The hearing had already happened, and he hadn’t shown up for it.

“How could I have had a hearing date?” he asked Max, perplexed.  He leaned forward, his large, work-roughened hands cupped tightly in his lap.  “They never even told me when I needed to be there.”

Attorney Max Olarsch hard at work in his CW JFON office.
Attorney Max Olarsch hard at work in his CW JFON office.

It took some digging, but Max did uncover the truth and confirmed his worst suspicions. The attorney in Phoenix had received the NTA (notice to appear) but had never bothered to forward it to Ezekiel. And now there was a very short window for getting Ezekiel’s deportation order rescinded and his case reopened.

“The attorney’s negligence caused irreparable harm,” says Max. “All of which could have been prevented with a simple phone call.”

Max began preparing a brief detailing the previous attorney’s negligence as a reason to reopen the case. Meanwhile, Ezekiel received a dreaded “bag and baggage” letter from ICE, informing him that he was required to come to their Yakima office—a 50-minute drive from CW JFON offices in Ellensburg—and prepare himself for deportation.

If he failed to show up, then he would be considered a fugitive.

“My heart dropped when I saw the letter, “says Max, shaking his head. “There is no contact name or number on the document, no way to reach a real human being. I was literally pacing back and forth—my dog looked at me like I was crazy. I called everyone I knew until I found another attorney who had the cell phone number of an ICE agent in the Yakima office.”

After a 30-minute conversation with the agent, Max was able to convince them to hold off on removing his client until he could submit his brief.

“I didn’t want to submit it until it was as good as it could be,” Max explains. “If you fail…well, then, it’s game over.”

Of course, Max did not fail. Ezekiel’s case has been reopened, and his final court date is set for February 2022.


Ellensburg, Spring 2021

“I am thankful for your care and attention…and that I won’t be blindsided again.”

CW JFON volunteers and supporters advocate for the safety and well-being of farmworkers in 2020.
CW JFON volunteers and supporters advocate for the safety and well-being of farmworkers in 2020.

Springtime is beautiful in the farming and orchard communities of Central Washington State. It’s the season of preparation — for the planting of crops, for the harvesting of asparagus, and for anticipating the arrival of acres and acres of apple blossoms.

Max is preparing, too. He and Ezekiel have worked together to meticulously prepare a new and detailed asylum claim, providing compelling evidence for why Ezekiel and his family need to stay in the U.S. and out of reach of the cartel.

Max was also able to secure Ezekiel—as an asylum seeker awaiting his court date—a much-valued work permit.

Ezekiel is preparing, too. He hurt his hand badly in the fall while using a machete at a local farm, and he has been zealously doing his hand exercises so he can regain complete mobility.

“See, it’s not so bad now,” he says, flexing his fingers, and leaning forward to demonstrate more fully. “They look good, right? The muscles are getting stronger every day.”

He nods his head and smiles with satisfaction.

Ezekiel’s friends had told him his stepchildren and the baby—now a year old—would be happy in Central Washington, and they were right. They had told him the people here were nice, and they were right about that, too.

Life is good. 


Photo credit: USDA, public domain. 


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