Pascale Fusshoeller, the undocumented journalist from Luxembourg who was ordered deported after allegedly running a Nevada City stop sign and then impersonating her wife, has had her deportation order canceled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The surprising ruling by ICE came Friday after Fusshoeller, who runs the firefighting and news website YubaNet with her wife, Susan Levitz, spent eight days in ICE custody and had been ordered removed from the country. On July 22, Fusshoeller married Levitz, an American citizen, weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, and allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.
“They finally saw me as a human being,” said a jubilant Fusshoeller, 51. “They’re supposed to get rid of criminals, which I completely understand and agree with, but a middle-aged lesbian who provides fire information? They made the choice to not deport me and it’s amazing.”
Fussohoeller was ordered deported after she was arrested Oct. 8 by the California Highway Patrol and taken to the Nevada County jail for allegedly running a stop sign at North Bloomfield Road and Highway 49, driving without a license, giving false information to police and impersonating her wife. The last charge – which has been dropped – is a felony requiring a $10,000 bond, according to the Nevada County Sheriff's Department.
ICE officials had released Fusshoeller Oct. 15 citing prosecutorial discretion, meaning the government chose to no longer hold her in custody while awaiting a final resolution of her immigration status. ICE officials were unavailable for comment Monday because of Veterans Day, but Daniel Olmos, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney specializing in immigration, said the cancellation order “is very unusual because it effectively terminates the case.”
“There’s nothing hanging over her head anymore, she’s not in in an ill-defined limbo, rather than simply suspending proceedings against her under prosecutorial discretion,” Olmos said.
The ICE decision drew criticism from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national organization that supports strict enforcement of immigration laws and an overall reduction of immigration. Spokesman Ira Mehlman said the cancellation order is another example of the Obama administration’s attempt to impose its own immigration policies rather than follow immigration law.
“This administration has been closing cases, even arbitrarily, though the law says that if you’re in the country illegally, you are subject to deportation and it should be carried out,” Mehlman said. “Being married to a U.S citizen doesn’t absolve you from compliance with our immigration laws. She was well aware of what our laws were.”
Fusshoeller, a Luxembourg citizen, entered the United States in 1998 on the visa waiver program, which allows foreign visitors to enter the United States without a visa as long as they agree to leave within 90 days.
“Luxembourg was a rather staid, conservative country, and when I was 15 my late father tossed me out, saying, ‘You are not my child any more, you’re good for nothing.’ He would not raise a gay child.”
Fusshoeller says she and Levitz fell in love and would have gotten married a decade ago if the law had allowed it. Had she been deported, she said, there was nothing for her in Luxembourg.
Fusshoeller said she and Levitz created YubaNet in 1999 after watching a wildfire spread near their home overlooking the South Yuba River. Using Google Earth and a variety of local, state and federal sources, they have since posted information on 657 fires throughout California, including 128 in Nevada. Yuba, Placer, Butte and El Dorado counties, Fusshoeller said. They give regular fire updates on radio station KVMR “where my nickname is ‘The Voice of Doom,’ Fusshoeller said. “We get 20,000 to 25,000 unique visitors a day for our non-fire news, and when a bigger fire starts it goes to 100,000 unique visitors.”
James Byrne, Fusshoeller’s immigration lawyer, called the cancellation order “very rare – this is the first time I’ve seen it in the visa waiver context. Prosecutorial discretion means the government is not interested in pursuing your case, but she would not be eligible to apply for a green card because she had an outstanding removal order.”
Now that the removal order has been canceled, Fusshoeller can apply for a green card as the wife of a U.S. citizen, Byrne said. The couple will file for adjustment of Fusshoeller’s immigration status in the next 10 days and could get a decision by early next year, Byrne said. Earlier this month, a California State University, Sacramento, professor emeritus and his husband from Thailand because one of the first bi-national gay couples in the nation to have their marital status officially recognized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
On Monday, Fusshoeller will go to court in Nevada County on three misdemeanors – giving false information to a police officer, driving without a license and failure to stop at a stop sign, said her criminal attorney, Tom Johnson. Although she was originally arrested for a felony, the felony charge has been dropped, Johnson said. “The case basically went from a felony to a traffic stop ... there’s got to be bigger fish to fry.”
Johnson thanked ICE “for listening to us ... we told them about her story and they made a compassionate decision.”
Fusshoeller, who is covering the Nevada County Board of Supervisors today for YubaNet, called ICE’s decision “amazing.”
“It’s like time travel, my ‘Eight Days on ICE’ never happened! Wow!”