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What Do You Do When the Face Staring Back at You from behind the Glass Says No?

written by Partner Danielle Conley

Probably the most frustrating part of dealing with immigration, whether it’s USCIS, ERO, ICE, or any other immigration agency, is when the person at the front window tells you no and makes you feel like you have no options.  It’s bad enough when it happens to an attorney, so I cannot imagine what it’s like for immigrants and their families to try and push through this seemingly impenetrable barrier.

I will tell you from experience, there is something you can do.  Even if you don’t know the law and don’t know what to say, you can ALWAYS demand to see a supervisor.  Every front line employee has a supervisor they report to, and a supervisor is always on duty.  Chances are, the answer to your question may change when a supervisor gets involved.

Perfect example: three weeks ago, I attempted to file an emergency motion to keep someone in the country who was detained and on the verge of removal.  Someone from our office was trying to file the motion at the ICE window in downtown Atlanta, and of course, the person at the window was extremely rude and dismissive.  She said she absolutely could not accept the motion because the person’s valid passport was not attached.  It was not attached because the person is detained, his passport is expired, and he has no way of renewing his passport without first being released.  She still said no.

The next day I overnighted the application directly to the Field Office Director with an explanation as to why I was filing it this way.  I spoke with my client’s officer at the North Georgia Detention Center and he understood that it should not have been rejected, but said there was nothing he could do because it had to get past the woman at the front window.  By having this attitude, this gives a person who has no knowledge of the law too much power and discretion to reject otherwise properly prepared and filed applications… all while a young man is sitting in a jail cell longer than he should be.

Of course my motion returned in the mail with a note that they could not accept it ONLY because it was not filed in person.  Hmmm.  So, this morning, I went back down there myself.  I was there at 8 am, their office hours being 8 am – 3 pm.  There was no one at the window by 8:05 am, but I could hear the employees behind the closed window blinds, laughing and carrying on, while people were standing on the other side waiting to pay bonds for their family members.  So, I knocked on the officer’s entrance to their office.  An officer came to the door with a look of shock on her face that I had the nerve to knock on their door, and all I could hear behind the door was, “no she did not have the nerve to knock on the door!”, as if I was the one doing something wrong.  

My next step was to call any phone numbers I could until an officer in that building answered the phone, and the one who did was floored that no one was there to assist me.  One minute later, the blinds opened to that woman staring back at me, and I knew I was about to face that same impenetrable barrier.  Once again, she refused to accept the motion.  I said that was okay, and I expected to speak with a supervisor.  She said the supervisor would not be in until 9 am.  I told her that was fine, I would wait.  Wait I did.  Shortly after 9 am, the supervisor came out to speak with me privately and told me that no one should have refused to accept the filing.  He walked back in, and while I stared glared at her through the glass, he politely explained to her that it most certainly should have been accepted.  

A moment passed, and she stamped my copy and slipped it back under the window.  When she looked at me, I smiled and tried to make it look genuine… sort of.  She did not smile back.  That’s okay because now she knows she cannot say no the next time I try to file a motion under these circumstances.  

Please remember: ALWAYS ask for a supervisor.