Pro bono client Hector Ocegueda has officially become a citizen of the United States – the country for which he put his life on the line as a US Marine – marking a triumphant end to his battle to rejoin his family in America as a naturalized American. Hector was sworn in on July 9 by Milbank alumnus Hon. Mark Scarsi at the US District Court for the Central District of California.
A Milbank team, working with not-for-profit law firm Public Counsel, filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of the deported Marine Corps veteran who had been blocked from completing his naturalization application process for over two years by the federal government and was living in Mexico.
Hector, now 53 years old, came to the United States with his family as a child of about nine years of age and settled in California. After graduating from high school with honors he joined the Marine Corps. He served in the Marines from 1987 until 1991 and in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1991 through 1995, when he was honorably discharged. While serving, he married a US citizen and they had two daughters.
Having served as an active-duty Marine during a designated period of hostilities, Hector is eligible for citizenship and entitled to be naturalized under the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were unwilling to let him enter the United States for his citizenship interview, the crucial next step in the naturalization process. Specifically, USCIS scheduled two citizenship interviews for Hector in Los Angeles but ICE refused to allow him to enter the country to attend the interviews, leaving him in an unjust “Catch-22” situation.
Despite Hector’s multiple attempts to secure an interview at a port of entry where he would be able to attend (as has been done in other cases, including during the COVID-19 pandemic), USCIS refused to schedule such an interview, instead delaying the processing of his naturalization application indefinitely and thereby violating its legal obligation to adjudicate Hector’s naturalization application within a reasonable timeframe and depriving him of the privileges and benefits that come with US citizenship.
The Milbank pro bono team was led by senior consulting partner Linda Dakin-Grimm, partner Mark Shinderman and associates James Behrens and Jeffrey Greenberg.