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.
As heartbreaking as Uzo's situation is, many have it worse. Disturbing deportation stories are particularly common in Philadelphia, where more than 3,000 aliens were rounded up and removed in 2004.
"I've had people sent to countries where their lives were in danger," says Hohenstein, who tells the story of a father of six who'd lived in the United States for 20 years and was deported because he allegedly admitted to having marijuana in his back pocket when he entered the country two decades before. Most of the recent draconian immigration laws are retroactive, which means people who have lived nearly their entire lives in this country can be at risk for deportation based on petty crimes they may have committed decades ago, even as minors.
Baird, who's been practicing immigration law often pro bono for the last dozen years, can name several devastating cases off the top of her head.
"I'm considering getting out of this field because it's just horrible," she says.
Baird is not alone. The judge who presided over her cancellation of removal hearing recently switched fields.
For Uzo and all those hoping for more reasonable immigration laws, the near future is bleak.
"We were hoping to see immigration reform pretty high up on the congressional docket after the August recess," says Cooper of PICC. "But between the Supreme Court nominations and Katrina, I don't think we're going to see anything this year."
"I've always believed in Philadelphia," Uzo says. "It's a great city and I really miss it. I was in such a wonderful country. My poor son. I don't even know what to tell him."
Cassidy Hartmann (email@example.com) last wrote about an antiwar protest in Washington, D.C.
Dinner with Luke Palladino