On a cold morning in January 2013, Jose Molina and his family were awakened by officers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mr. Molina, who has been a lawful permanent U.S. resident since coming here as an infant and had been working for years as a seasonal gardener for the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, was led away from his crying family and held for two months at a detention center as the government began legal proceedings to deport him to Panama—his birthplace, but a country he has never known.
Mr. Molina had been targeted for deportation because of a mistake he’d made two decades before: At age 18, he had been arrested for felony assault. He served two and a half years in prison and subsequently turned his life around.
Many people and organizations came to the aid of Mr. Molina in order to help him stay in this country with his wife and two teenaged children. This large team of advocates included the Immigrant Defense Project; Mr. Molina’s public employees union; his co-workers and supervisors at the Parks Department; many elected officials; and DWT. John Magliery led a DWT team that included Danielle Toaltoan, Victor Kovner, and Megan Duffy, who together devoted more than 75 hours to the case.
Thanks to all the parties’ combined efforts, Mr. Molina’s old conviction was vacated in 2017 after the Brooklyn district attorney agreed not to contest a motion that Mr. Molina ought to have been designated a “youthful offender” at the time of his offense, and a New York State Justice agreed to resentence him as such. This removed the grounds for deportation and resulted in the termination of the immigration proceedings. Mr. Molina is restored to his status as a lawful resident and may begin the process of becoming a citizen.
In November, DWT’s New York office hosted a celebration of this victory. Victor made remarks, noting that Mr. Molina’s journey and all the people who helped him along the way reflect the values of New York City. The story also exemplified the values we strive to live by at DWT: respect for the dignity of every individual regardless of race or background and the power of collaboration and community.