Court ruling could lead to immigration law reform

  • Lucio Perez talks to the crowd with his family gathered behind him in front of First Church Amherst in celebration of his end in sanctuary on March 13, 2021. STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2021 5:06:29 PM

AMHERST — Lucio Perez, who spent 3½ years in sanctuary in an Amherst church to avoid deportation to Guatemala, could have his case reopened, and might be able to seek permanent residency in the United States, based on a recent Supreme Court decision, according to his immigration lawyer.

During a Zoom conference call organized by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center Tuesday morning, attorney Glenn Formica said that the Niz-Chavez vs. Garland case is a “turning point” for American immigration law that may provide opportunities to many immigrants who have lived in the country for a decade or more.

Under federal law, immigrants can only appeal a removal order if they have been in the United States continuously for at least 10 years, with that clock stopping once a notice to appear is issued. But it’s possible the court has made 20 years of these cases, and the notices to appear, jurisdictionally invalid for 1.5 million immigrants, Formica said.

“While the case was about a special form of relief that will help people in Lucio’s particular legal situation, the bigger question is now whether it applies to all deportations where the Department of Homeland Security failed to include the date and time on the initial notice to appear,” Formica said.

While Perez remains in limbo following a yearlong stay on his deportation issued in late winter by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a hearing on his status is anticipated in Hartford Immigration Court, Formica said he now may get a chance to argue that Perez should be considered physically present in the country since his arrival in 1999.

The Supreme Court case also gives Perez more confidence. “I don’t want to go back to Guatemala,” he said through an interpreter. “I feel my roots are now here.”

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, who attended the event when Perez was allowed to leave the First Congregational Church in Amherst in March, said Niz-Chavez vs. Garland creates an opportunity to help people like Perez and others who believe they have been treated in an unjust manner.

“This decision gives wind to the backs of many of us who believe our immigration systems is confusing, chaotic and unfair,” McGovern said.

In the decision, written by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch and made by an alignment of three liberal and three conservative justices, the court ruled that the Justice Department violated federal law by not providing immigrants it seeks to deport with a single, comprehensive “notice to appear” with details on the charges and scheduled court appearance.

ICE’s decades-long practice of issuing a notice of deportation proceedings without a date has usually been followed by multiple further notices with updated information.

Perez said he appreciates the Supreme Court for analyzing the situation. “It seems politics wasn’t a factor for judges when they decided what was correct,” Perez said

Margaret Sawyer, lead organizer and co-director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said the Supreme Court has told the nation that deportation proceedings have been done incorrectly for the past 20 years.

“We think this is a moment that opens doors,” Sawyer said.

McGovern said he is happy to celebrate the court decision and look at how it can influence immigration policy in Congress, possibly bringing Republicans and Democrats together on some type of reform.

“Our system is deeply, deeply broken,” McGovern said. “We have to act.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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