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Judge wont release Garcia from ICE hold

Merkley, Kitzhaber, letters — Garcia supporters scramble for Plan B ideas


Numerous letters of support and more than 15 well-wishers who drove up from Oregon three weeks ago failed to persuade a Tacoma immigration judge to temporarily release Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros from an Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) facility.

Garcia, who was brought to the United States illegally when she was 4, went before the judge March 5, hoping to return to Washington County where she could serve out her sentence for “failure to perform the duties of a driver,” a Class B felony.

The 19-year-old (18 at the time) accidentally and unknowingly struck and killed two young sisters in a Forest Grove leaf pile Oct. 20, then failed to return to the scene after learning what had happened shortly afterward.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Rick Knapp sentenced Garcia to three years of probation and 250 hours of community service, knowing ICE would need to release her before she could serve the sentence.

In a 10-page ruling, the judge called Garcia a “flight risk” and a “danger to the community,” according to her immigration attorney, Courtney Carter.

Tersia Theel was outraged with the decision. “I’m actually really shocked they didn’t let her out. And I think it’s disgusting,” said Theel, who is not only the mother of 11-year-old Abigail Robinson (one of the accident victims), but is also one of Garcia’s strongest supporters.

“I really hope they’re not using her to make an example. I think it’s wrong,” said Theel. “Will it make any difference at all if I ask every person I know to start sending that judge a letter?”

The March 5 immigration hearing was the one Carter viewed with the most hope.

At Garcia’s sentencing hearing Jan. 31, Cart er told Knapp she had strong arguments for Garcia’s short-term release from the ICE facility, but that a long-term ruling for permanent deportation was still a “grave danger.”

Carter estimates that more dangerous hearing will take place sometime this summer.

Meanwhile, Garcia’s defense attorney, Ethan Levi, is appealing Garcia’s felony conviction “because we do not believe that, on the evidence presented, Cinthya is guilty of the crime of hit-and-run or any other crime.”

Garcia’s conviction erased the temporary legal status she had recently gained through the federal Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program.

“I am very disappointed about the immigration ruling,” said Levi, who will file a notice of intent to appeal as soon as an amended judgment is signed and entered by Knapp. The whole appeals process could take roughly two to three years.

Successful appeals sometimes lead to new trials, but not in this case, said Jesse Merrithew, who works with Levi. “If we win the appeal, there will be no new trial. Her conviction would be reversed.”

The negative outcome of what was supposed to be the easier hearing hit Garcia supporters hard.

Some are considering political intervention as another way to keep her in the country. There is talk of requesting special help from an elected official such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley or Gov. John Kitzhaber, but no one has started any official efforts yet in that direction.

“Merkley or Kitzhaber would help me out,” Carter said. “We’ve got enough public support for her, which makes the judge’s decision more bizarre.”

As of Tuesday morning, more than 100 supporters had donated $4,289 to a fund that could have helped pay Garcia’s bail if the judge had granted her release. But it could still help her and her family with other needs, said Bridget Cooke, executive director of Adelante Mujeres, the local nonprofit that started the fund.

If Garcia is eventually deported, it could help with the costs of starting a new life with her father and brother (who have said they will return with her) in a country they have not seen for 14 years.

The Adelante fund is located at youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/support-cinthya-garcia-cisneros/144398.

Garcia’s father, Mario Garcia Sr., continually expresses his gratitude for the community’s support.

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