Caught in a web of bureaucracy, longtime local businesswoman Uzoamaka was arrested and put on a plane to London in August. Her lawyers blame the inefficiency of post-9/11 immigration enforcement.
A letter had been sent to Hohenstein's office the day before Uzo was taken, stating that the government had declined to reopen the case. He hadn't even had a chance to read the letter when he received the call from Uzo's boyfriend that she was being held.
The harsh and seemingly unprofessional method of Uzo's deportation angered Hohenstein, though he says he wasn't particularly surprised by the denial of the motion.
"In Philadelphia we often don't get a reasoned consideration of requests to reopen cases," he says. "I don't know why we don't get more in-depth analysis. Some local district offices haven't been told they need to provide reasoned responses, so they tend not to."
Adding to the injustice, Uzo's visa priority date had become current in 2004, leading her lawyers to suggest that if the I-130 had been processed on time she could've obtained legal status before ICE took action.
But when it comes to the immigration system, there are no guarantees.
"It could have helped, but it still might not have," says Hohenstein. "It wasn't an absolute certainty."
"The system is very broken," says Baird. "There should be a way for people who go before a judge in removal proceedings and get ordered to be removed because they don't qualify for the benefit to stay here during the pending of other applications. The slowness of USCIS is a major issue."
USCIS spokesperson Strassberger says in many ways the division of the INS under Homeland Security has actually made the immigration process more efficient, and that USCIS and ICE do work together. "It's a cooperative collaboration," he says. "But again we have specific roles, parameters we work with. It takes time to develop guidelines, protocol, memos of understanding to work things out."
While the government works out its guidelines and policies, Uzo and thousands like her wait, angry, confused and unsure about their future.
Meanwhile, Joe Hohenstein is pursuing the reconsideration of his client's case. But response time, especially overseas, is extremely slow. And the missing I-130 form still must be approved for Uzo to have any possibility of returning to the States.
In the meantime, Uzo's family and friends in Philadelphia have created a petition that will be part of a portfolio to be presented to the U.S. embassy in London if she gets the opportunity to plead her case. They're hoping to gather 1,000 signatures. Her friends have also started a website on her behalf and a letter-writing campaign to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to help bring her back.
But without the government's cooperation, the chances of her return are dismal. Under U.S. immigration law, Uzo is banned from entering this country for a minimum of 10 years.
"Uzo is full of happiness, life, charm, kindness and love," says her Philadelphia friend Rachel Crowl, a Center City real estate agent who first met Uzo six years ago. "She has the most loving and wonderful relationship with her son, whom she misses so much. It's heartbreaking to see them torn apart."
Philly DJ/producer King Britt, who says he met Uzo soon after she moved to the city, has been friends with her since. "She's been a very positive force in my life," he says. "She's made amazing contributions to our Philadelphia scene and economy, and then there's her strength as a mother. She's a renaissance woman, a role model."
Corbitt Banks, who befriended Uzo when he owned a women's boutique on South Street, has known her since the '80s. "I considered her on the cutting edge of where Philly's going in trying to build an international city," he says. "She's added to the creative energy, particularly to those who consider themselves shakers in the Center City area."
Like all of Uzo's friends, Banks is angered by her deportation.
"You hate to see an injustice against a friend, but also because I'm a taxpayer and it was committed in my name," he says. "We're living in a time that's very similar to the Joe McCarthy era. The way she was deported was horrendous."
"She's just a good soul, and that spread around the city," says Koko Darling, another of Uzo's closest friends, who used to own Crimson Moon coffee shop. "She had such a positive impact on people. I want her to be back here."
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