By Martin Kidston
The case of a Missoula woman and mother who was abused by her husband and now faces imminent deportation by the federal government has placed both her and her attorney in the difficult position of making her story – and name – public.
In most cases, a victim of domestic violence is not identified by name, though in this instance the circumstances left Helena immigration attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath and his client, Kathleen Benitez-Field, little choice but to take a more public approach.
This week, Haque-Hausrath and Benitez-Field asked Missoula County District Court to unseal documents related to her case. The defendants, including the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, did not oppose the motion.
“The documents were initially sealed on our request,” Haque-Hausrath said on Wednesday. “Since she’s the victim of domestic violence, her privacy interests were implicated. We didn’t want her abusive spouse to retaliate even more.”
The case dates back to 2010 when Benitez-Field was publicly assaulted by her husband, Jesse Lane King, when she picked up her two children at a Missoula apartment. King pleaded guilty to the assault before tipping off an ICE agent several days later regarding Benitez-Field’s immigration status.
A Homeland Security report from October 2010 states that King called the ICE tip-line to report that Benitez-Field was an undocumented alien from Spain living illegally in the U.S. King further stated that Benitez-Field had fraudulently obtained child support and welfare assistance from the U.S. government.
“King called ICE to attempt to initiate removal proceedings against (Benitez-Field),” evidence compiled by Haque-Hausrath alleges. “These documents show that the calls occurred on Sept. 25 and Oct. 19, 2010 – during the same time period when King was facing assault charges and (Benitez-Field) was pursuing a restraining order.”
Haque-Hausrath said Benitez-Field had a fake green card only because King prevented her from obtaining legal status over the five years of their marriage. Still, ICE issued an order of deportation on March 28, 2011, claiming that Benitez-Field violated the terms of her admission to the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
But another federal law takes precedence in this case, Benitez-Field’s attorney said.
“This order of removal was issued as a direct result of retaliatory action by an abusive spouse,” said Haque-Hausrath. “It’s contrary to the intent and purpose of the Violence Against Women Act.”
Haque-Hausrath said abused immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens can apply for relief under the Violence Against Women Act. They also qualify for “U visas” for cooperating with law enforcement officials in prosecuting a crime.
While Haque-Hausrath has applied for both forms of relief, Homeland Security has stated its intention to deny them. That has placed Haque-Hausrath in the difficult position of unsealing the documents and revealing the sensitive details of the case, including Benitez-Field’s identity and family history.
“Going public is going to have ramifications for her,” said Haque-Hausrath. “It’s going to be difficult for her personally because (King) is a controlling and abusing person. He’s likely to hold it against her. But since she’s facing deportation and permanent separation from her children, we don’t have much choice.”
Benitez-Field declined to comment for this story. Haque-Hausrath said she remains fearful of speaking publicly and is currently the caretaker of her children, who are U.S. citizens.
Since taking the case public, several Missoula community members have written letters of support, describing Benitez-Field as a good friend and a good mother.
“I am a close friend and have been around her parenting and have trusted her with the care of my own child,” one Missoula woman wrote. “I know that her children have been experiencing unnecessary stress and anxiety for years fearing the deportation of their mother and the separation of their close family.”
An expert witness for the city of Missoula prosecutor’s office said she’s aware of Benitez-Field’s abusive relationship with King. Another urged Homeland Security to “not deport victims of violent assault based on a ‘tip’ from the abuser.”
Haque-Hausrath said he plans to file one last motion this week in hopes of winning a hearing before a U.S. District Court judge. He believes the federal government’s denial of Benitez-Field’s request for relief under both the U-visa program and the Violence Against Women Act are contrary to the law.
“When federal court has the opportunity to review Homeland Security’s basis for denial, the judge will hold it was against the law and he’ll reverse those,” said Haque-Hausrath, who has represented other immigrant victims of domestic violence.
“I’ve never had to go with a situation where the government’s actions were quite so egregious, where they actually worked with an abusive spouse mere days after he’d been convicted of an assault and used that to go after a person who was the victim,” he added. “It’s a pretty unusual situation that requires an extraordinary response.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org