Through the efforts of an Oregon senator and a Christian charity, a Philippine woman is back home in Brookings after sitting in a jail cell facing possible deportation.
Phoebe Abe-Abe Lynch, 43, was detained by the Portland Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office June 14. She had gone there in hopes of getting a hearing to change her status to permanent U.S. resident.
Instead, she spent the next two weeks in the Yamhill County Correctional Facility until she was unexpectedly released last Wednesday.
According to Brookings resident Gary Wiltermood, Lynchs fianc, and Paige Edenfield, INS supervisory detention and deportation officer in Portland, the whole problem revolves around a February 1999 immigration interview to consider Lynchs conditional status.
Lynch did not attend the hearing, and that is where versions of what happened next take different routes.
Lynch married Darral Lynch of Crescent City in the Philippines on Aug. 2, 1995. In November of 1996 she moved to the United States to be with her husband, an American citizen, on a conditional visa CR1.
Darral was abusive, Lynch told The Pilot on Monday, having a temper.
Wiltermood said Lynch was basically a sex slave and that her husband abused her mentally, starved her and allowed her no personal freedom.
Lynch said her husband viewed marriage as legalized sex. She later discovered he had been married five previous times.
On Dec. 10, 1998, Lynch left her husband. She filed for a dissolution of marriage on Feb. 11, 1999. It was finalized on Sept. 9, 1999, at which time she moved to Oregon.
According to Edenfield, Lynch was in the country as a legal permanent resident because of her marriage to a U.S. citizen. She had a two-year conditional application based on her valid marriage.
The interview to remove the conditional status was scheduled for February 1999.
According to Wiltermood, Lynch didnt attend the interview because she never received the registered mail notification sent from the California INS office. The letter was accepted at her former address by her ex-husband, who signed for it. She stated she never received it from him.
According to a letter dated June 22, 2001, from John Fintel, postmaster at the Crescent City post office, he recalls that Lynch had problems getting her mail from her ex-husband. He also states in the letter that Lynch apparently did submit a change of address.
I also accepted a forwarding order from Phoebe at that time (late 1998), Fintel said. so that her forwarding information could be entered into the forwarding system as a COPI (court-ordered protected information) change of address.
She also filled out the smaller change of address cards in the change of address kit and sent one of them to, according to a witness, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. . . .
It is my understanding at this time, that Darral Lynch received two separate certified or registered letters from INS over two years ago that should have gone to Phoebe Lynch, and that he signed for them and discarded them.
I believe that Phoebe is the victim of INS and USPS (United States Postal Service) errors and that the apparent actions of her ex-husband Darral Lynch, which I am reporting to the Postal Inspection Service today, have placed her in a terrible situation that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
I apologize for the errors made by the postal service.
Edenfield said the action taken by her office against Lynch was based solely on her not attending the interview more than two years ago.
When she didnt appear for the interview in February of 1999, Edenfield said on Tuesday morning, her (residency) status was terminated because no explanation was offered at the time for her not appearing for the interview.
As far as we knew, she disappeared. She didnt notify the California office of her change of address and her ex-husband apparently signed for the documents.
At that point, according to Edenfield, the process moved from the INS office to a California federal court.
Charges were lodged and notice was given to appear in court (scheduled for Jan. 19, 2000), she said. She failed to appear and the judge signed a warrant for deportation.
This is where it gets complicated. We dont know what shes been doing since.
Lynch and Wiltermood both said that throughout this period of time, Lynch never received any notice and that she continued to follow INS procedure through the Portland office.
Since the interview for removal of conditional and temporary status was scheduled in February of 1999, we had been to the INS office in Portland three times and nothing was ever said to us, Wiltermood said. They stamped her papers each time we were in the Portland office, it validated her presence in the United States.
They just kept telling us they were waiting for her papers to come from California so they could schedule a hearing so she could get permanent residency. We were acting upon that premises.
We thought everything was in order.
Wiltermood said they were in the Portland INS office in January and October of 2000 and again in January, 2001.
In March, 2000, the issue became even more complicated when Lynch returned to her native home to deal with family issues. She returned from the Philippines in May of the same year.
At that time Lynch received permission from the Portland INS office to make the trip out of the country, according to Wiltermood. They validated the papers necessary for her to make the trip.
Lynch left from and returned to the United States through San Francisco International Airport. She said in both cases, she went through INS customs where she was never questioned about her immigration status or told there were any problems with her status.
Edenfield adds an interesting twist to Lynchs trip home.
(Lynch) came to the Portland office requesting an extension of her conditional residence, Edenfield said. She stated she had an emergency at home and we issued a temporary extension, even though she had actually already been deported by the judges order. We just werent aware of it at that time.
So when she went to the Philippines, she self-deported herself.
When Lynch showed up at the Portland INS office June 14, Edenfield said the records had arrived from California, including the deportation warrant, and Lynch was placed into custody until a valid passport could be obtained from the Philippine embassy in San Francisco, at which point she would be deported.
Edenfield said that while Lynch was in custody, INS was able to begin to piece together the events and were prepared to deport.
But since we discovered she had left the country, basically self-deporting herself, and came back, she was not entitled to see a judge, Edenfield said. Her attorney made a motion to reopen the case in San Francisco on issues involving her ex-husband and a possible change of address problem.
But the previous case had been closed.
Edenfield said at that point INS made the determination to release Lynch until all the legal questions are answered, in one of two possible ways.
She is illegally in the United States, her status has been terminated, Edenfield said. There are two solutions to this matter: either we have a new deportation hearing before a judge or she may be eligible for a benefit as a battered spouse.
If she is eligible for that benefit, she probably will get her status back.
Because her attorney is pursuing this avenue, we are not going to proceed with the removal process at this time.
Since her detention on June 14, Catholic Charities of Portland has been providing Lynch with legal assistance. Her attorneys were out of the office and unavailable for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
Another factor that may have come into play in Lynchs release from INS detention (although Edenfield did not mention it as a factor) was the intervention of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) on her behalf.
According to Rebecca Wilder, Smiths deputy press secretary, the senator encouraged INS to take a second look at Lynchs situation.
We sent a letter to the INS office in Portland, Wilder said Tuesday morning, urging them to reopen the case.
The letter, dated June 20, 2001, states:
My constituent Mr. Gary Wiltermood has recently contacted me regarding the pending deportation of his fianc, Ms. Phoebe Abe-Abe Lynch . . .
It is my understanding that Ms. Lynch has been placed in detention and is expecting to be deported within the next several days. Mr. Wiltermood has stated that a Request to Join in a Motion to Reopen has been filed, however I have been informed that this Request has not yet been reviewed.
Ms. Lynch became the victim of domestic violence and her marriage to her U.S. citizen husband was terminated after she filed an I-751 to remove the conditions of her residence. Ms. Lynchs ex-husband neglected to notify Ms. Lynch of both her I-751 interview and the subsequent hearing date.
I understand that Ms. Lynch was ordered deported in absentia in California, however she never received this notification. Mr. Wiltermood has stated that he assisted Ms. Lynch in filing updated address changes with both the INS Service Center in Laguna Niguel, Calif., and the INS Portland District Office . . . was unaware that Ms. Lynch had been placed into proceedings.
Given the circumstances in this case, I would deeply appreciate any assistance you can provide in ensuring that the Motion to Reopen is reviewed as soon as possible. . .
Wilder said Sen. Smith could do nothing more for Lynch at this point.
This is now a legal matter, she said. Our involvement in this matter has ended.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the initial paperwork had been filed in court by Lynchs attorneys, according to Wiltermood, in an attempt to gain her special consideration since her conditional status was based on a failed marriage to an abusive spouse.
Wiltermood said that the next step in the process would not be taken until documents can be gathered and Lynchs attorneys are available again July 16.
One problem facing Lynch in the interim is that upon release from detention last Wednesday, INS told her that because of her status as an illegal alien, she could not return to work. She works as a caregiver at Curry Good Samaritan Center and Park View Special Care Center.
I cant do anything, she said on Monday, I cant work to pay my bills. They wont let me work. What do I do?
INS said I cant go back to work, and theyre holding all my papers. She said maybe my attorney could get me a temporary permit to work, but nothing has happened yet.
Wiltermood said that Catholic Charities told him on Tuesday afternoon that any temporary work permit could not be obtained until the remaining documentation had been filed and a hearing date set.
At that point Lynch could conceivably receive a temporary permit so she could work until the hearing is held.
Wiltermood also said the couple was working locally to set up a legal defense fund to aid Lynch since she is unable to work.
Another issue for Lynch is the fear that she could be detained or deported at any time.
They told me when they released me that they could come and get me at any time, she said. That I could go back to jail or sent back to the Philippines.
From what Edenfield said on Tuesday, that wont happen until Lynchs attorneys have exhausted all legal means to allow the woman to remain in the country and community she now considers her home.