n.j.couples.deportation1

Gideon and Rica Tonog talk to J.T.S. Mallonga, Esq. (right) of Abad Constancio and Mallonga, LLC.  (Filipino Reporter photo)


The Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) has scored another victory after a federal immigration judge granted administrative closure on the pending deportation of a Toms River, N.J. Filipino couple based on humanitarian grounds as the wife battles uterine cancer.

Judge Frederic Leeds of the Executive Office for Immigration Review of the U.S. Department of Justice approved on May 8 the joint motion to administratively close the proceedings involving Gideon Tonog and his ailing wife, Rica, who is also on a seven-month high-risk pregnancy.

The couple, both 38, were in removal proceedings with no relief available to them, either by way of family or employment-based petitions.

Assistant Chief Counsel and Senior Attorney Lisa Shultz, who represented the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deemed the Tonog case a low priority and exercised ICE’s so-called prosecutorial discretion by joining the motion filed by one of FALDEF’s volunteer attorneys, J.T.S. Mallonga, Esq. of Abad Constancio and Mallonga, LLC, on behalf of the Tonogs.

Prosecutorial discretion is a special ICE program initiated in August last year to reduce the massive backlog of pending immigration court matters by identifying those that could be dismissed or put on hold.

“The administrative closure is one of many ways in which prosecutorial discretion can be exercised by ICE,” Mallonga told the Filipino Reporter.

Mallonga also noted that with Rica’s life-threatening condition, the couple decided to have a baby — a girl due in August —  who will be left behind with Gideon in case Rica won’t survive her medical ordeal.

“Knowing the risks in her medical condition, the spouses Tonog nonetheless decided to put their fate in God by going for a baby,” the Fil-Am lawyer said.

“We’re praying very hard that everything will turn out okay for my wife and our baby,” an emotional Gideon told the Reporter in an interview.

“The closure of our deportation proceedings is a welcome relief,” Gideon said.

“We thank God, as well as FALDEF and the ICE for this decision.”

Gideon’s mother, Miriam, whom he has not seen since he left for the U.S., is also fighting for her life.

The 72-year-old mother from Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental has liver cancer.

“We talked to her on Skype last Mother’s Day,” Gideon shared.

“She’s very supportive and told us to do what we have to do for the sake of Rica and the baby.”

“But she told us she’s too tired to fight her illness and has given up everything to God,” he added.

“I wish I could find a way to be by her side.”

Still in limbo?

Mallonga, meanwhile, clarified that the Tonogs are still in limbo with regards to their immigration status.

Administrative closure does not promise a work permit or a green card.

“Their (ICE) magnanimity did not extend to providing the spouses Tonogs the means to earn a living, that is through work authorization,” Mallonga said.

“Be that as it may, FALDEF’s intervention in the instant case was primarily to stop the deportation proceedings so that Rica can get the necessary medical attention.”

As the Board of Immigration Appeals has explained, administrative closure is an administrative convenience used to temporarily remove a case from a immigration judge’s active calendar or from the board’s docket, but “does not result in a final order.”

At any time when either party wishes to place a matter back on the docket for active consideration, that party may file a motion to recalendar.

The federal government last year announced it will review 300,000 pending immigration court cases nationwide and exercise prosecutorial discretion to shift its focus to those cases involving convicted criminals.

As of mid-April, ICE had reviewed more than 70 percent of the files and decided to offer to temporarily suspend roughly 7.5 percent of deportation cases, agency officials told the Associated Press.

Rica, a marketing management graduate of St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, came to the U.S. in 2004 and obtained a labor certification through a Filipino-American-owned staffing company.

But the application to adjust her work permit to green card was denied by the DHS due to financial incapacity of the employer to pay the proferred wages.

Meanwhile, Gideon, who was a dependent of Rica in her application, lost his status from the time his sponsoring company shut down following the 9/11 tragedy.

He is an electrical and computer engineering graduate of San Carlos University in Cebu.

In July 2010, the couple received a notice that they have been placed in removal proceedings.

A month later, however, Rica was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus (severe endometriosis and endometrial hyperglasia) following a surgery at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., and was told to undergo aggressive treatment.

She also had suffered two miscarriages in the past which were believed to be connected to her medical condition.

“Deporting her would literally spell a death sentence,” according to Mallonga.

Aside from the medical aspect, Mallonga said he also emphasized to the ICE the couple’s active involvement in civic and charitable organizations in Tom Rivers and outlying communities.

Mallonga noted that the Tonogs are among the founding members of the Filipino-American Cultural Enrichment School for the U.S.-born Fil-Am youths.

They also have worked with the Filipino-American Medical Society of Toms River and helped raise funds for scholarships and donations for victims of various natural calamities in the Philippines, the lawyer added.

The request also contained testimonies from several leaders who have vouched for the immense civic contributions and excellent standing of the Tonogs in the community.

Three Ocean County mayors have also submitted letters of support for the Tonogs.

In his argument blocking the deportation, Mallonga indicated that the Tonogs do not fall under classes of deportable aliens whose removal has been give high enforcement priority such as violent criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists.

“They have no criminal records and they are law-abiding tax-paying citizens,” Mallonga said.

“They even have a proven track record of service to the community.”

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