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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a woman’s asylum case after concluding that bad lawyering may have cost her a shot at living in the United States to avoid feared persecution in Iraq or the United Arab Emirates. At the heart of the case is a lawyer’s decision to file an immigration appeal using the regular mail service, which took too long, causing the appeal to be denied. Bad move, concluded the court, which ordered the case reopened on Aug. 2, holding that “had [the lawyer] overnighted or hand-delivered the appeal, it likely would have been timely filed.” Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. wrote the opinion. He was joined by Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons and U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio, who sat by designation. And it wasn’t just the mailing snafu that ticked off the 6th Circuit. Perhaps more troubling was that the lawyer, Patricia Sullivan, allegedly lied to her client about the status of her appeal by telling her “everything was taken care of” and that she “should not worry.” The client is Rania Mezo, a Catholic Chaldean and Iraqi citizen who lives in suburban Detroit and is fighting deportation to Iraq or the United Arab Emirates. “Given the evidence that Mezo hired an attorney and was lied to by that attorney, combined with her lack of understanding of our Byzantine immigration laws, the likely cause of her delay in moving to reopen was not a lack of due diligence,” the 6th Circuit wrote. According to court records, Mezo is a native of the United Arab Emirates and a citizen of Iraq. When Saddam Hussein’s regime occupied Kuwait in 1991, her family moved to Syria to escape retaliatory actions against Iraqis living in the United Arab Emirates. Mezo arrived in the United States on May 18, 2005 on a nonimmigrant-fiancee-of-a-U.S.-citizen visa, which authorized her to stay here only three months. However, she stayed longer without authorization, and has been fighting deportation for years. Mezo alleges that she was persecuted throughout her childhood and early adulthood by her teachers and classmates because she was not Muslim and refused to join the Ba’ath Party. She also claims that from 1997 and 2005, when she fled to the United States, she was investigated, threatened, interrogated, imprisoned, tortured and raped by members of the Syrian Security Administration on multiple occasions. Mezo fears being persecuted if she returns to the Middle East because she is not a Muslim — and, has long resisted joining the Ba’ath Party. In 2007, an immigration judge denied her application for asylum. The judge granted her request to stay out of Syria, but ordered she be deported to Iraq, or in the alternative, to the United Arab Emirates. She appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but her appeal was denied because it arrived too late. It was supposed to be there by Aug. 27, 2007, but arrived Sept. 4. In July 2008, she filed a motion to reopen the case, claiming she was denied due process because of ineffective counsel. The board again refused to reopen the case, finding Mezo had not shown due diligence. This, the 6th Circuit held, was an abuse of discretion by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and ordered the case reopened. “Because the Board abused its discretion in finding that Mezo did not show due diligence, we vacate and remand the Board’s decision for further fact-finding to determine the truth of Mezo’s allegations,” the 6th Circuit wrote. According to the court’s opinion, Mezo filed a grievance against Sullivan with the State of Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission on July 24, 2008. The commission would not confirm receipt of that grievance, citing agency policy to keep investigations private. Sullivan has no record of discipline with the state attorney discipline board. Sullivan, a solo immigration attorney in Livonia, Mich., was not available for comment. In a footnote, the 6th Circuit noted that Sullivan claims that the original appeal was untimely because of “delivery delay caused by outside clerical deficiencies.” The court also noted that “[t]he envelope in which she mailed the appeal was post-marked August 24, 2007. It is unclear why the notice of appeal and filing fee was not received until September 4, 2007.” Whatever the reason, Mezo was prejudiced by her lawyer’s actions, and deserves a shot at having her appeal heard, said David Paruch of the Law Offices of David H. Paruch in Troy, Mich., who is handling Mezo’s appeal. “At the heart of this is the fact that the attorney did not get the appeal filed on time,” Paruch said. “If that same document had gone by overnight mail as opposed to regular mail, it would have gotten there in time.” Paruch was also troubled by the Board of Immigration refusing to reopen the case because of a filing issue. “That, to me, was just improper — that we would allow that kind of mistake to create life-altering consequences,” he said. “It did not seem that this was appropriate, and it appears that the court agreed.” Meanwhile, Paruch is expecting a tough fight. “I do know that these kinds of cases are an uphill battle, ” he said, adding, “ She’s in serious, serious danger if she is sent back.” Michele Sarko, an immigration attorney with the Department of Justice who worked on the case, declined comment.

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