Special Reports

Tara Ammons Cohen to meet with family, without glass

Tara Ammons Cohen will get to hug her two boys today.

It’s been a little more than 18 months since she last was able to kiss and hold them and inhale their boyishness.

Cohen has been at the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats since July 8, 2009, as she fights deportation to Mexico after pleading guilty to a drug charge.

She was born in Mexico but was adopted as a 5-month-old by American parents and grew up in Caifornia. Now 38, she doesn’t speak Spanish, has never visited Mexico, and knows no one there.

Still, under U.S. immigration law, adoptees such as Cohen do not have automatic citizenship and their adoptions are not a bar from deportation.

Over the months Cohen has been in detention, husband Jay and the boys – Troy, 13, and Gavin, 10 – have traveled from Omak to see her, but there has always been glass between them.

Not today, a delighted Cohen said in a telephone interview Thursday.

“I can’t believe it,” she said.

The family’s first “contact visit” will be in one of the small, white-walled lawyer interview rooms at the center. Still, it will be a welcome respite from Cohen’s battle with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It comes as she awaits an answer to an appeal of a deportation order Immigration Judge Tammy Fitting issued Dec. 7.

Cohen’s attorney, Manuel Rios, has asked the federal Bureau of Immigration Appeals to overturn the ruling. He contends the judge failed to provide “a legally sound ground for denying” Cohen’s application to stay in the United States, where she has lived since she was a baby.

Rios said Fitting failed to provide any analysis of how conditions in Mexico would affect his client – who has mental issues and would essentially be a poor migrant.

“The (judge) ignored record evidence that demonstrates that the mentally ill and indigent individuals in Mexico are confined to squalid and abusive institutions with complicity of the Mexican government,” Rios said in his appeal.

A return to Mexico would put Cohen at a risk for sexual violence and worse, he said.

Rios argued it was not enough for Fitting to simply say Mexico has made attempts to promote respect for migrants and women and therefore Cohen would not be persecuted if returned.

The actual conditions in Mexico must be considered, he contends.

Though her predicament is mostly of her own doing, Cohen believes immigration laws are unfair when it comes to infant adoptees such as herself.

Her parents didn’t get her naturalized, nor did she when she had the chance. By the time she tried to get citizenship as the spouse of an American, she was in trouble with the law.

She was arrested in 2008 on theft and drug trafficking charges. She pleaded guilty to stealing a purse containing two bottles of prescription pills and to a trafficking charge though she never sold a pill.

After landing in the detention center, Cohen has had some success with the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.

Fitting first ordered Cohen deported in October 2009. Cohen appealed, and the appeals panel said her drug charge might qualify as a “not particularly serious” charge.

Fitting agreed and said Cohen might avoid automatic deportation but that she still had to ask for asylum since she is considered a Mexican national. The judge said Mexico has laws that would protect her and denied her asylum or any relief from removal from the country.

Rios said a decision on Cohen’s appeal of Fitting’s latest ruling could take four to eight months.

In the meantime, Cohen waits in the detention center. Her husband and two boys wait in Omak.

“It’s all we can do,” she said.

Cohen’s deportation fight has drawn national and international attention.

The Mexican consulate in Seattle retained Rios to work on her case, but the funding has run out. Cohen said she and her family have no money to pay Rios but feel he deserves payment for all his work.

“I’m so grateful to him,” she said.

Said Rios, who continues to represent Cohen: “I believe in her case.”

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 mike.archbold@thenewstribune.com