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Many people must be thanked. First of all her immigration lawyers, Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud, who put together a strong case based on Sima's good moral character and the extreme hardship that deportation would have been placed on her daughter, Leila.
Next our elected officials must be thanked: US Congressman David Price; State Senator Ellie Kinnaird; Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton: and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen who worked so hard during the early days of Sima's imprisonment to get her case reopened and secure her release from jail.
The local faith community must be thanked: Eno River Unitarian Universalist Foundation (ERUUF); Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist, and Tom and Mary O'Dwyer who organized a fundraiser at ERUUF for Sima's legal defense fund.
Jackie Helvey must be thanked for creating a website supporting Sima, which can be consulted for some history of Sima's legal case.
The entire Carrboro community, particularly the Carrboro Community Garden Club, must be thanked for the letters that they sent to the immigration court attesting to Sima's good moral character and the money they sent to the legal defense fund.
The local Iranian community, particularly Nazi Kite, must be thanked for their financial and moral support.
Now that I am separate from Leila, I miss her but I still feel safe in my heart and I know God gave me this trouble so that I can feel love; love that comes from all those people who are trying to help me. Now I don’t think I belong only to a family of two. The whole Carrboro is my family and I am most grateful to them.
Sima Fallahi - December 15, 2006
When Sima Fallahi went to the Chapel Hill Police Station on Monday, November 27, 2006 to apply for a street vendor's permit to sell her art, she had no way of knowing this simple act would set into motion a process that would result in her arrest and possible deportation from Carrboro, her longtime home.
Sima and her 11 year-old daughter Leila are fixtures in the Carrboro community. There are few events I can think of where they haven't been present over the past several years.
Sima marked her home country of Iran on the world map on the lawn in front of Town Hall on Carrboro Day, just as the rest of her Carrboro neighbors marked their homes, near and far.
This year, Leila read poetry during the Carrboro Day Poetry Reading at the Century Center, as Sima watched proudly in the audience.
Together they dressed in red, white and blue and marched in the 4th of July parades.
Paintings of landscapes by Sima hung at Carrboro Town Hall in a group exhibit a few years back.
They often made the rounds during the 2ndFriday ArtWalk. Most of the time you would see them together, a mother and daughter completely devoted to one another.
When Sima returned to the Chapel Hill Police Station on Wednesday, November 29 to pick up her vendor's license, her life, and the life of her daughter, changed forever.
Musa Farah, a friend of Sima's, had driven her to the Chapel Hill Police Station. Farah waited for quite awhile for Sima to return to the car, and finally grew concerned enough to go inside and see what the problem was. Fallahi was nowhere to be found. Farah was told that Sima was gone.
He was told she was being transported to Atlanta for deportation. He had no way of knowing that this information was incorrect, that instead Fallahi had been taken to the Orange County jail in Hillsborough.
It seems that after doing a routine background check on Sima, the Chapel Hill Police Department found there was an outstanding removal order for her, due to her Visa status, and called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. *
Fallahi was trying to do the right thing by following the rules in the community where she lives, getting her vendor's license, and paying the fees that went along with it, which, by the way, have not been returned to her.
"Sima said that the Magistrate at the Orange County Courthouse was kind to her and at first said that she might not need to be imprisoned, but soon had to tell her that it was required that she be incarcerated," says Sima's close friend Kathleen Barton, who was not at home to receive Sima's call for help that afternoon.
"The jailer, however, was not so kind," continues Barton. "Sima told her that she was hungry and the woman replied 'That's tough; dinner was at 4:30 and you missed it.' She was told that she could only make collect calls and only when they allowed it. She was not read any Miranda rights."
"I have been most appalled by the total callousness and attitude of 'It's not our concern' that I got from the Chapel Hill Police, the INS and the jailer at the Orange County jail," says Barton. "I told them all that Leila was left alone with no one to care for her. Why hadn't they taken care of that first, instead of being so anxious to get Sima out of the country?"
Sima was transferred from the Orange County jail to the Mecklenburg County jail last Friday. On Sunday Kathleen and her fiancé Bob Wright took Leila to Charlotte to visit her mother. It was Sima who introduced Kathleen and Bob.
"Sima thought that Kathleen and I would be a good couple, so she introduced us in June, 2005. I guess she was right because Kathleen and I got engaged on Saturday," says Wright.
The money that likely would've been used as a down payment for their wedding has instead been used as a retainer for an immigration lawyer Sima needs, who will be filing a motion to reopen her removal proceedings before an Atlanta Immigration Judge.
Sima is being represented by attorney Jorgelina Araneda, who is one of only eighteen board-certified immigration attorneys in North Carolina. If Sima has what is called an "in abstentia" removal/deportation order, typically a motion to reopen must be filed within 180 days of the Judge's order. The firm is also looking into her previous representation by her former attorney, to determine if any arguments can be made that she received ineffective assistance of counsel.
"If Sima is sent back to Iran, they won't be sending Leila back with her," warns Senator Ellie Kinnaird, who is concerned with what will happen to both Sima and Leila. "If Sima is deported, it will be left to her to find a way to reunite with her daughter in Iran."
"Sima is doing well," says Bob, "but she says 'I just want to be with my baby. I just want a normal, simple life with my daughter.' "
On their Sunday trip, they were allowed to talk with Sima for 30 minutes.
"Leila will never know if it is the last time that she will see her Mother," states Barton.
What can we do?
Click here for a downloadable form to donate to Sima's defense fund. Please print and complete the form and be sure to sign it before mailing it to the Araneda Law Firm (the mailing address is on the form). You may also donate using a credit card by calling the Araneda Law Firm at 919-788-9996
Sima has also started doing pencil portraits for $30 each to earn some money. See Sima's website for more information abnd samples of her work.
If Sima is deported and survives, it could be years, if ever, before she is allowed to return to Carrboro. We must do what we can to see to it Sima doesn't fall through the cracks and end up back in Iran before she can plead her case.
Will emailing elected officials do any good? There is no way of knowing. My feeling is that it can't hurt. After emailing both I got a reply from David Price on Friday, December 8 with the following info:
So far there has been no response from Elizabeth Dole.
Imagine being ripped from your home, separated from your only daughter, and sent back to a place you don't want to be. This is the possibility Sima Fallahi currently faces. And what about Leila? What happens to her?
4-16-07 - Good News. Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud, Sima's immigration lawyers, sent the following information to Sima today:
"Good morning - we have some wonderful news! The Immigration Judge granted our motion and reopened the proceedings! Attached is his order and the notice for Sima's initial hearing (called a "Master Hearing" which is a preliminary hearing when the Judge will give us a deadline to submit supporting documentation and a date to present the actual case). Sima's hearing date in Atlanta, GA is on June 7, 2007 at 8:30 AM before Immigration Judge Houser...on that day the Court will assign a future date for a full hearing."
Sima's legal hurdles (and legal expenses) are not over. With the overturn of Sima's deportation order and the reopening of her political asylum case, Sima's immigration case is back where it was in 1999 when she originally applied for political asylum and received ineffective legal representation. She still has to be given asylum by the immigration court for her to remain in this country.
We have just received legal bills for preparing Sima's application for a work permit and for representing Sima at the master hearing. Additional bills associated with the full hearing will also be coming. If you wish to contribute to Sima's legal defense fund, please go to www.carrboro.com/sima for instructions about how to make a contribution.
On February 26, the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee proposed two resolutions to the Chapel Hill Town Council to clarify the town's policy on the arrest of persons with civil immigration violations (such as Sima) and to for the town to make a significant contribution towards paying the legal expenses associated with her arrest and imprisonment. On April 11, the town staff recommended to the council to take no action on the two resolutions and the council accepted this recommendation.
Regarding the town's arrest policy, "...The issue of dealing with civil warrants in the NCIC database has been addressed by the Chapel Hill Police Department through policy and education of officers... This procedure serves the purpose of the proposed Resolution to the extent that it provides that persons subject only to civil immigration warrants will not be arrested or taken into custody by the Chapel Hill Police..."
Regarding the contribution for Sima's legal expenses, "...In this case, the Town is being asked to make a voluntary contribution of moneys for the express purpose of directly benefiting a single private individual person. As a voluntary contribution of money, in my opinion, this expenditure would not constitute a proper public purpose under North Carolina law and could be subject to legal challenge on this basis... As an alternative to the Town making this voluntary contribution, individual citizens of Chapel Hill could be encouraged to voluntarily make contributions to a fund established to provide Ms. Fallahi assistance with her legal expenses... A process is in place to consider and respond to claims against the Town arising out of an alleged wrongful action taken by the Town or alleged wrongful failure by the Town to take action where some harm is suffered by a person or the person faces monetary loss. A person who believes he or she has such a claim may submit it to the Town Finance Department..."
Finally, visit Sima's website to view her mandalas and eggs, portraits, murals, and paintings.
3-6-07 - Good News. Sima Fallahi was released from the Mecklenburg County Jail this afternoon and is now home in Carrboro with her daughter, Leila. The two of them are happy that Sima's three-month-long imprisonment has ended.
As you probably know, there was a false alarm on Saturday when the jail sent out an automated call that Sima had been released. We fairly quickly learned that Sima would not be released that day. It now appears that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had ordered a wholesale transfer of all female immigration inmates from Charlotte to Atlanta and the jail realized that there was a special hold on any transfer for Sima. It would seem that the automated release notification was a complete error. We may never know the complete story.
On Sunday, Leila, Kathleen, and Bob went to Charlotte. In addition to the routine thirty-minute visit through a glass partition, Leila and Sima were able to have a forty-five minute contact visit in the same room. This was Sima's reward for successfully completing a parenting course that is offered by the jail. We then returned to Carrboro.
Jorgelina Araneda, Sima's immigration attorney, was informed by ICE that Sima would be released that day. Leila and Bob jumped into a car and went back to Charlotte. When they arrived, the jail staff informed them that a release order had not been received. They checked with ICE in Atlanta and were told that the release order was sitting on an ICE supervisor's desk waiting to be signed. It appeared than nothing more was going to happen on Monday. They decided to spend the night in Charlotte in the hope that the release order would be sent to the jail on Tuesday.
Leila and Bob went back to the jail on Tuesday morning. The jail staff again checked with ICE and were again told that the release had not been approved by the supervisor. A rather dejected Leila and Bob decided to go home. They had gotten as far as Kanapolis when Kathleen called to say that the release order had just been received by the jail. Upon their return, Leila and Sima met in the jail lobby and the now happy family started their trip back to Carrboro.
The legal hurdles (and legal expenses) are not over. Sima is under supervised release and must report periodically to the ICE office in Charlotte. Because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not opposed Sima's motion to reopen the proceedings on Sima's deportation order, it is very likely that the motion will be granted. However, DHS reserves the right to challenge the merits of this case. It may take several months for the immigration court to make a decision. If the order is lifted, Sima must then reapply for political asylum. Sima will be able to stay in this country only if she gets political asylum.
We are thankful for the support that the community has provided to Sima and Leila. First, we appreciate the many messages that our elected officials and community members sent to Representative David Price, which encouraged him to ask ICE to keep Sima in Charlotte, rather than in Atlanta. This action allowed Leila to visit Sima weekly, which was important for the well-being of both mother and daughter. Second the community's contributions to the legal defense fund has helped to pay for the excellent legal representation that Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud have provided for Sima. Third, we are thankful for the families of Leila's classmates who have helped Leila maintain normal social interactions in a very stressful time for her. We are also thankful for the many gifts that have been sent to Leila.
3-5-07 - At the risk of crying wolf again, here's information that we've just received from Jorgelina Araneda, Sima's immigration lawyer. Thanks for your help and support through this struggle for Sima's release.
Sima is being released today. I just got a call from Atlanta at 9:45AM. It will take a couple of hours for them to arrange it.
3-3-07 - Although we have received six automated telephone messages this morning from the Mecklenburg County Jail telling us that Sima has been released from jail, we just got a call from Sima telling us this is not the case. She said that she had been held in a holding cell for nearly four hours this morning and that she had been prepared for release. The jailors gave her back her belongings and $25, but then they suddenly came in and told her that she needed to go back to her cell and would not explain why. They would only tell her that the plans were "changed". I asked Sima if they knew (1) that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had not objected to the immigration court reconsidering her removal (detention) order and (2) that her immigration lawyers had sent a request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release her this weekend because of decision. She did not know of either of these facts. I offered to fax the letter from DHS about the decision to the jail if it would help gain Sima's release.
It is frustrating for the jail to have gotten our (and your) hopes up and then shot down about Sima's release. We will try to stand by patiently to learn more about Sima's custody status. Another update will be sent when we get more definitive information about Sima's release.
2-7-07 - Sima called Leila, Kathleen, and Bob this evening as is her usual custom. She said that her immigration attorney, Jorgelina Araneda, told her that her release might be delayed until around February 16 because she has been assigned to a new case officer at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While she is waiting to be released, Sima would appreciate any letters that you may wish to send to her. She can also do any pencil portraits that you may wish to have done.
2-1-07 - Sima can be released from jail any day now!!! It could be as early as today. Because the jails are so crowded with immigrants, there is no room for the real criminals, and so ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has decided to start releasing low-flight-risk prisoners. Sima's immigration lawyers, Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud, have asked ICE to allow Sima to be released early under supervision. Sima was interviewed by ICE last week and filled out the paperwork for her early release. Basically, she promised not to run away and she will be "supervised" while out of jail until her custody hearing in Atlanta on February 28. The only problem for us is that ICE won't let us know when the release is to take place. Sima can only call us only after her release from the Mecklenburg County Jail. If she is released on the weekend, we will drive down to Charlotte to get her. If it is during the week, she will take a Greyhound bus to Chapel Hill and we will pick her up there.
While this is great news for Sima, Leila and us all, Sima still has to jump over many legal hurdles before she is completely free. First, the custody hearing in Atlanta must allow Sima to continue on supervised release. We will accompany her there. Second, Sima's petition for cancellation of removal (deportation) must be successful. Her immigration lawyers will argue that ineffective legal representation and other extenuating factors prevented Sima from getting a fair hearing during her 1999 application for political asylum. At this point, Sima can reapply for political asylum, which may take years to be granted. The lawyers are very optimistic that Sima's case will be reopened and that she will be granted political asylum, and eventually a green card.
ICE has a ten criteria for early release to assess whether she is cooperating. One of those criteria is her showing that she is not obstructing the removal should the petition be denied. ICE needs to have a visa and an airline ticket ready for her in that event Sima wanted to make a good faith gesture, to be positive, and to cooperate so she signed a form for ICE to obtain a visa from Iran for her removal. It is important for us all to remember that it is still quite possible that Sima may be deported and that we cannot relax our efforts to cancel the removal order.
After Sima gets home, she will be needing some help with driving to appointments and getting groceries. Please give us a call if you can help out with the errands. Bob and I have already taken off a lot of time from work. It would be helpful if any stay-at-home Moms or retired people could help in this regard. Please call us at 309-9622 or 672-0149. Thanks!
Many thanks to all of you for your good wishes, prayers and financial support. While the legal defense fund is growing , we are still far from the minimal costs quoted by the lawyers. Thank goodness we have been spared the cost of bail due to this early release of Sima, but there are still some costly hurdles up ahead.
1-3-07 - On Saturday, Leila had a good visit with Lydia Perkins, her paternal grandmother, who brought her many presents from her father’s side of the family. Leila was happy to see her grandmother, who travels from Gretna, Virginia.
On Sunday, Leila, Kathleen, and Bob went to Charlotte to visit Sima in the Mecklenburg County jail. Sima is generally in good spirits and is happy to see Leila. Leila told Sima about her holiday trip to Ohio and New York. The high points of the trip were a visit to Howe Caverns in upstate New York, her first train ride, a boat ride around Manhattan island, and a quick visit to Manhattan and Times Square. In all, everything went well despite a lot of car travel. Sima is working on pencil portraits for those who have sent their photographs to her by mail.
On Monday, the immigration lawyers visited Sima again to discuss their legal strategy and to obtain more information about her 1998 application for political asylum. They are waiting to assemble all the necessary documentation before they file the petition to appeal her deportation order and to reopen her political asylum application. They believe that Sima's original immigration lawyer gave her ineffective legal representation and they hope that the ineffective legal representation will be sufficient grounds to reopen Sima’s case. The immigration court in Atlanta will have 30 days to decide on the petition. With luck, Sima will be out on bail sometime in February. Then the lawyers will file the new political asylum application and it probably will take considerable time for the immigration curt to make a decision on the application. We hope that Sima will be free to live with Leila in Carrboro while this decision is being made.
We appreciate those who have made contributions to Sima’s legal defense fund. Although a good start has been made, much more is needed for the whole legal process. We are especially grateful to Tom and Mary O’Dwyer who have collected contributions at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF), where Sima once belonged. Tom and Mary are organizing a social justice task force to expand the fund-raising effort. They are looking for a dozen or more workers who are willing to serve on the task force. If you are interested in serving, please contact Tom at email@example.com or 919-906-0581.
12-17-06 - Leila, Bob and Kathleen had a very pleasant visit with Sima today. She appeared in good spirits. She told us that if she completes a parenting class at the jail, she will be allowed to have a "real" visit with Leila for 45 minutes, during which the jail will sponsor activities for the mothers and children to do together, and they will get their picture taken together. Both Sima and Leila are very excited about this. They haven't been able to share a hug in three weeks!
Sima says that her fellow inmates have great camaraderie and that they help each other out bartering for things they need. Sima has exchanged doing portraits for them for a thermal undershirt (the jail is very cold) and a new hairdo. Sima could really use some money. She has said that she would like to earn some money while in jail and the only way she can think of doing that is to do portraits. She said that if anyone will send her a photograph, she will do a pencil sketch for you. (She is not allowed any art supplies other than pencils and paper, which the jail store has.) She would like $30. for each portrait. The jail has a small store where she can buy things. We are not allowed to send her anything except letters.
Sima has said over and over how grateful she is to all the people who are suporting her with their wishes, prayers, gifts to Leila and the Legal Defense Fund. It brings tears to her eyes every time I tell her about all of you who have been so concerned about her. She had no idea she was so loved.
12-14-06 - Sima’s supporters met with her immigration lawyers last night at the Carrboro Century Center to discuss their legal strategy for freeing Sima. Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud of the Araneda Law Firm in Raleigh told us that they believe that she has a strong case for remaining in the country by appealing her removal (deportation) order. The grounds for the appeal will be ineffective legal representation during her original application for political asylum in 1999. Sima told them that she did not go to the immigration hearing in Atlanta because her lawyer at that time would not take her to the hearing, but application was denied because Sima did not appear at the hearing to testify. Her previous lawyer is infamous within the immigration law community, has been disbarred, and has served a year in prison for attempting to defraud the government in another immigration case. Her current lawyers will file a petition to appeal the deportation order in about two weeks. A decision on the petition will be made within a month after the filing. If the petition is successful, Sima could be released on bail within two months time while a new asylum application is being made by her lawyers. The estimated legal costs for this work is $10,000 to $15,000 excluding the bail bond.
Ms. Araneda and Mr. Stroud announced the creation of a legal defense fund for Sima and gave instructions for sending contributions (check or credit card) to the fund. All contributions will be used for Sima’s legal expenses.
Several news organizations were at the meeting. WTVD (Channel 11, Durham) and The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill conducted interviews at the meeting. Reporters for The Chapel Hill Herald and The News and Observer wrote stories about the meeting. Additionally, The Independent Weekly ran a story about Sima and Leila this week. Hopefully, this publicity will raise the community’s understanding of Sima’s legal problems and will gather support for her. Links to the stories are below:
Independent story as a pdf file
Independent story on Manlin Chee, Sima's former lawyer, as a pdf file
We received a letter from Sima today who thanked her supporters for all the things that are being done for her and for pulling for her. She is grateful forever for their support. She says, “Carrboro is a special place where love is abundant. I can’t wait until I can come out and be with all my friends.”
We spoke with Sima tonight and she again thanked her supporters. Sima has received the newspaper clippings that we mailed to her, but she hasn’t gotten Leila's birthday party photos yet. She’s continuing her art and personal change classes and says that she can take classes for college credit. She has been in contact with her immigration lawyers and understands the schedule for the appeal.
12-10-06 - Today, Nazi Kite and Bob Wright took Leila to see her mother at the Mecklenberg County jail. Nazi is a long-time friend of Sima's and is the President of the Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina. After a bit of a wait, we were able to talk with Sima for 30 minutes. It was a good visit. Sima looked calm and relaxed. She kept her eyes on her daughter for most of the visit as we all talked with her. We told her about the birthday party although we were not allowed to bring photos to show Sima through the glass that separated us from her.
Sima said that her living conditions were OK. She gets three meals a day and the food is edible, but not great. She been doing some exercises. She has an individual cell and access to a common room with other inmates, although the common room privilege is sometimes revoked for infractions like too much noise. She has access to a phone and calls her daughter almost every night as long as that privilege isn't revoked.
Sima is taking an art class in which she is making small drawings of other inmates and geometric mandala designs, which she showed us. She is also taking another class about getting to know yourself in which inmates learn about why they ended up in jail.
Sima thanks everyone who has been helping her and wants a list of her supporters kept so that she can send each one a thank-you note when she is released. She hopes to be released and back with her daughter soon. Sima said that the attorney that visited her in jail indicated that, if the court allows an appeal to go forward, she might be released in two weeks to two months. Sima is worried about being able to keep her apartment and belongings until then so that she and Leila will have a place to live.
12-09-06 - Today was Leila's 11th. birthday. She celebrated without her mother.
12-06-06 - A representative of the Orange County Dept. of Social Services visited Sima regarding guardianship for Leila. Kathleen Barton and Bob Wright will become Leila's temporary guardians until the end of the school year or until Sima is released.
Contact Sima at her website
If you would like to receive updates on Sima's situation and upcoming activities to aid with her defense, please click here to be added to the list.
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