SEATTLE (AP) – A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney was charged Wednesday after authorities say he forged a document to make it look like a Mexican citizen who wanted to stay in the United State was not eligible to do so.
The misdemeanor charge of depriving the rights of the Mexican man was filed against Jonathan M. Love in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The charges follow a civil case filed last year by Ignacio Lanuza against Love and the federal government that sought damages for the legal costs he suffered because of the incident.
The civil case against Love was dismissed and appealed, but the case against the government continues.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says Lanuza was stopped by an ICE officer in 2008, and ICE started removal proceedings. Love was assigned the case in 2009 and submitted a document to the Immigration Court that he said was signed by Lanuza in 2000. Prosecutors say Love forged the date to make Lanuza ineligible to have his removal cancelled.
Seattle lawyer Tom Brennan, who represents Love in the civil case, did not immediately return telephone and email messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment. Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for ICE, said her agency's policies prohibit her from commenting on pending litigation.
Matt Adams, a lawyer for the Northwest Immigration Rights Project who represented Lanuza in the civil case, said the charges against Love "are an important step in establishing accountability and sending a clear message that all people are entitled to a fair hearing."
"We hope that the Department of Homeland Security will review all of the cases this ICE attorney handled to determine whether there are other victims who need relief," Adams said in an email. "The anti-immigrant forces that express outrage over people violating our immigration law, demanding their immediate deportation, ignore the fact that those same immigration laws provide many people an opportunity to demonstrate that they qualify for lawful residence or other lawful status in this country."
Lanuza first entered the country illegally in 1996 and later settled in Seattle. He was caught by ICE in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to unlawfully displaying a weapon after handling a friend's pistol at a party, according to the lawsuit. The following year, he married his girlfriend, a U.S. citizen. He sought to have his ICE removal canceled because of the marriage and because he met the stipulation of being in the U.S. continuously for 10 years.
But Love said Lanuza gave up his right to appear before an immigration judge after he was apprehended by Border Patrol agents in 2000. Love said Lanuza had left the country and that made him ineligible to petition for removal. Love said Lanuza signed a document while he was in custody of the Border Patrol in 2000.
Lanuza and now federal prosecutors say Lanuza did not sign that form and say Love forged the document.
In doing so, Love, while acting as a lawyer, deprived Lanuza of his constitutional rights, including the right of a "full and fair immigration removal proceeding free from false and fabricated evidence."
Love is scheduled to make his first appearance on the misdemeanor charge on Friday.