Pascale Fusshoeller, well-known for her fire coverage as a citizen journalist in the Sierra Foothills, has been ordered to be deported after attempting to use her wife’s identification during a traffic stop Tuesday in Nevada City.
Fusshoeller, 51, has lived in the United States for 15 years as an undocumented immigrant after arriving here from Luxembourg through a short-term visa waiver program. Her best chance of staying in the country is the fact that on July 22, less than a month after a U.S. Supreme Court decision paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, Fusshoeller married her partner, Susan Levitz, according to her criminal lawyer, Tom Johnson. She had not yet filed paperwork to seek an adjustment in her citizenship status at the time of the traffic stop.
The couple operate the popular website YubaNet, a go-to source for wildfires in progress viewed by about 50,000 people a day during the height of the summer fire season.
On Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave her a deportation order signed by Michael Vaughn, assistant field office director, declaring, “You have waived your rights to contest any action for deportation except to apply for asylum ... I hereby order that you be removed from the United States of America.”
Fusshoeller was ordered to be deported because she entered the United States on the visa waiver program, which allows foreign visitors from Luxembourg and about 40 other countries to enter the United States without a visa as long as they agree to leave within 90 days, said her immigration lawyer, Jim Byrne.
“Since she’s overstayed the 90 days, she has no right to a hearing or due process; she waived that when she came in,” Byrne said. “That’s the unfairness of it – people who sneak across the border who the government hasn’t vetted, or those who have overstayed student or tourist visas, have more rights than people like her who were vetted to see if they were terrorists.”
Unlike Fusshoeller, those who sneak across or overstay visas still have the right to contest deportation, Byrne said.
Her immigration troubles began Tuesday when a California Highway Patrol officer stopped her near North Bloomfield Road and Highway 49 on suspicion of running a stop sign. In addition to the traffic infraction, she was arrested on suspicion of giving false information to police, driving without a license, resisting arrest and false impersonation. The last allegation is a felony, according to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department.
“The officer asked her for her I.D., and she didn’t have any so she gave her wife’s name,” said Johnson, adding that the district attorney has filed no charges.
“Any time you have somebody arrested on a felony who is not a current U.S. citizen, we advise ICE,” said Nevada County sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pettitt.
The customs agency took custody of Fusshoeller on Friday morning, brought her to their Sacramento office, issued the deportation order and then brought her to a holding facility, Johnson said. “She’s extremely scared, upset and shaken. She’s being belly-chained; they’re treating her like a common criminal. It’s degrading. ICE didn’t consider her contribution to the community or the rights of her wife, a U.S. citizen.”
Because of the government shutdown, ICE public affairs officers were on furlough, and the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., did not return calls or respond to emails.
Because Monday is a federal holiday, Fusshoeller’s lawyers plan to go before an immigration judge in San Francisco on Tuesday to argue that as the legal spouse of a U.S. citizen, she should be allowed to stay here.
“It’s not just about Pascale, it’s also about Susan Levitz,” Johnson said. “By deporting her, they create a potentially great hardship for an American citizen, loss of emotional and financial support.”
He added that Fusshoeller would have been better off had she been charged with a misdemeanor because she could have stalled the deportation until her criminal case was resolved.
Johnson said she can’t be deported until she gets a passport from Luxembourg. “She has no family there, no job. There’s nothing for her in Luxembourg.”
An immigration judge could allow her to remain in the United States while she applies for adjustment of status based on her marriage, “but that’s also a complicated procedure; she has to get documents from Luxembourg,” Johnson said.
Federal officials could choose to exercise prosecutorial discretion and drop the deportation order since Fusshoeller has not been charged or convicted of a crime, said Kevin Johnson, an immigration law expert and dean of the UC Davis School of Law. “The DHS now recognizes gay marriage.”
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this month that would have prevented Nevada County law enforcement from detaining her based on her immigration status, but it does not take effect until 2014, said Carlos Alcala, spokesman for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill. Assembly Bill 4 only allows local law enforcement to refer undocumented immigrants arrested for serious crimes to ICE.
Alcala also noted that after Jan. 1, Fusshoeller could qualify for a driver’s license under a separate bill, AB 60.
“This whole case should not have happened and is the kind of unfortunate incident that AB 4 was intended to avoid,” Alcala said. “She is clearly not a danger to the community who should be deported.”
In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, Levitz wrote that she and Fusshoeller met in 1999, “and Pascale overstayed her visa to remain with me ... a routine traffic stop should not be able to destroy our lives and business, but that’s precisely what ICE is doing, with lightning speed that takes no account of our marriage, the fact that we haven’t had time to complete the green card process, or our standing in the community ... I need you to take action on my behalf immediately, before she’s on that plane.”
Fusshoeller has won awards from Nevada County radio stations for YubaNet’s fire coverage. She has already gotten support from hundreds of people on the Facebook page “Let’s Support Pascale.”