Special Reports

Omak woman fears abuse if deported to Mexico

An Omak woman appealing a judge’s order deporting her to Mexico has cited a recent study that indicates she likely would suffer persecution and torture if sent there.

In a brief appealing her removal, Tara Ammons Cohen’s attorney, Manual Rios, said her status as a poor, mentally ill woman and a “de facto” migrant would make her vulnerable to abuse that is widespread in Mexico.

Rios is asking the federal Board of Immigration Appeals to stop Cohen’s deportation or allow the immigration judge who deported her, Tammy Fitting of Tacoma, to consider the study.

He also is seeking a visa for Cohen that would stay deportation, allow her to be released from detention and remain in the United States for two years so she can seek citizenship.

Cohen, 38, is married and the mother of three children. Born in Mexico, she was adopted as a 5-month-old by an American couple and grew up in California. She doesn’t speak Spanish, has never visited Mexico and knows no one there.

She has been held in the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats since July 2009.

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.

Cohen 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 sold none of the pills.

Under federal immigration law, a drug charge automatically leads to detention and usually deportation.

Fitting, the immigration judge hearing Cohen’s case, first ordered her deported in October 2009. Cohen appealed and another hearing was ordered. Last December, Fitting again ordered Cohen deported, saying she would not necessarily suffer persecution or torture in Mexico.

Cohen and her attorney hope the new study by Disability Rights International and a Mexican commission on disabilities changes the judge’s mind. The study found patterns of treatment in Mexican mental institutions that constitute torture.

Rios argues that Cohen is likely to end up in a mental institution because she is being treated for bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, and would have no financial support in Mexico.

The process for Cohen’s appeal can take up to six months to provide an answer, Rios said.

In the meantime, he has asked for a so-called “u-visa” that would free Cohen from detention while she seeks citizenship.

U-visas were created in 2000 to encourage undocumented crime victims to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement. It has been applied retroactively to people who were crime victims in the past.

Rios said Cohen was sexually assaulted in Los Angeles County when she was 17 and worked with prosecutors and law enforcement officials to prosecute her attacker. Many of Cohen’s mental issues stem from that attack, he said.

The u-visa process required certification that Cohen was a victim and helped police. It took several months to track down that information, Rios said, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office has signed the certification.

Certification is only the beginning of the process. An application can take up to nine months, he said.

In a recent telephone interview from the detention center, Cohen said her family was holding up but her separation from them has been too long. She said she was optimistic she will be back home this year.

“I can’t wait for this nightmare to be over,” she said.

Mike Archbold, staff writer