Wills prepared in case of deportation

Jeff Tyler Nov 11, 2010

Wills prepared in case of deportation

Jeff Tyler Nov 11, 2010


Bob Moon: What happens to your money and other possessions after you’re gone? Normally, that’s a question dealt with in a will, preparing in advance by deciding, now, who gets what.

But the very same issues can apply much earlier in life for undocumented immigrants. As deportations have increased, they face a struggle to protect their assets before they’re gone — from the country.

Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports.

Jeff Tyler: For undocumented immigrants, one misstep can result in disaster.

Ismael Martinez Neri lived in the U.S. for 12 years. Then, one night, he was stopped by police in Georgia for a broken taillight. It led to his being put into deportation proceedings. Bad enough for him, but worse for his son, who doctors had put on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

Ismael Martinez Neri: As soon as they found out that I was in removal proceedings, they took him out of the list, because they were concerned about who would provide transportation to my son after the transplant.

He was unprepared for his own deportation, let alone the implications for his very sick son. This despite the fact that activists have been warning for years that people need to make tough financial decisions in advance and make arrangements.

Maria Odom: It is as important as a will, because you need to have a plan in place for your children.

Maria Odom is executive director at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Odom: Who is going to receive and have the resources to take care of that child? Do I want to create an emergency fund in the event that I am detained so that that temporary custodian can properly take care of my child?

Rafael, who owns a two-bedroom house in Riverside, Calif., has similar concerns. I agreed not to use Rafael’s last name, because right now, he has no legal right to be in the U.S., although he’s spent most of his life here.

Rafael: When I got here, I was 17 years old. I’m 42, 43 year old now.

For 20 years, he had a job at a lumber yard. Then his worker’s permit expired. Through a series of legal missteps, he faces deportation to Mexico. Just like many undocumented immigrants, Rafael is entrusting the family’s assets to his American children.

Rafael: My kids decided to stay and try to see if they can afford to pay the house.

If Rafael is suddenly deported, his daughter has access to his bank account. She plans to hold on to the house where they’ve lived for more than 10 years. Other families that have not prepared end up liquidating assets in a fire sale.

Javier Maldonado is an immigration lawyer in San Antonio.

Javier Maldonado: These folks have accumulated quite a bit of equity in their home, or they have vehicles. And they have nothing else in their home country, and so they need access to that money.

Planning ahead can help immigrants get ready for deportation, but preparation also makes it easier to avoid it. This requires a lawyer. Many offer their services for free, but demand for legal services exceeds supply.

Maria Odom says the cost varies widely from city to city.

Odom: It will be several thousand dollars. It would be a serious investment on the part of the person who is in deportation proceedings.

Fighting deportation is easier when a person can establish that they’ve been conscientious about paying their taxes.

Outside the courthouse in Atlanta, I spoke to Sarah Owings, the lawyer representing Ismael Martinez Neri.

Sarah Owings: Fortunately, Mr. Martinez Neri had a tax identification number and had been paying some taxes.

Owings say the courts take tax payments seriously. They’re like an investment in this country.

Owings: Anyone can get a tax identification number. It does not require you to have legal status here, ad the IRS will gladly take your money.

The court showed mercy on Martinez. Because of his son’s hardship, he was allowed to stay in the country legally. He’s now working to get his son placed back on the list for a heart transplant.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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