POCATELLO – A man who immigrated from Zimbabwe to Pocatello 15 years ago, is married to a U.S. citizen and fathered a son in the Gate City will be deported next month, according to his attorney.
Boise-based immigration attorney Chris Christensen told the Journal on Monday that his client, Chakanetsa Christopher Matimba, who goes by Chris, was detained and arrested on June 5 at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Application Support Center in Idaho Falls during a routine meeting to request an extension on an order to stay in the country.
“We went to a check-in at the immigration agency in Idaho Falls and they just detained him,” said Deon Matimba, Chris Matimba’s wife. “Normally (the officials) there just come out and check his paperwork, but this time they asked to have us meet them around the other side of the building. The next thing they said was your husband wants to talk to you and he was behind glass.”
Matimba has been incarcerated at the Jefferson County Jail in Rigby while his case is being adjudicated. He will be deported on Aug. 15 because officials at the USCIS facility denied a stay of deportation or removal application that has been previously approved for 12 years, Deon Matimba said.
The stay of removal order was initially filed in 2007 after Matimba faced deportation related to a misdemeanor criminal conviction of domestic violence in Bannock County that occurred in 2007 and was ultimately dismissed by the court in February 2011.
The incident involved Matimba and the mother of his soon-to-be 11-year-old son. Aside from two minor traffic citations, Matimba has no other criminal convictions.
“That 2007 conviction is what led to Chris’ order of deportation,” Christensen said. “The (Notice to Appear), or the charging document issued by the immigration court in 2007, said he was removable from the United States for two reasons. One was for a student visa violation and the other was for a crime involving moral turpitude.”
Matimba has been in the country since 2003 when he immigrated to Pocatello on a student visa to attend Idaho State University. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
When contacted by the Journal on Monday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, officials would not immediately comment on the case.
As part of an arrangement with state prosecutors, Matimba pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor domestic violence charge and an order for a withheld judgment was issued. Using a withheld judgment request, Matimba was sentenced to two years probation.
After his probation was extended for one year in 2008, Matimba was discharged in February 2009. When Matimba paid the remaining balance of his fines and restitution in 2011, a Bannock County judge granted a motion to dismiss the charge entirely from his Idaho criminal record.
However, Christensen said that a guilty plea or conviction of any kind coupled with a restraint on liberty, such as the probation sentence, is enough to meet the threshold for ICE to issue an order of deportation, despite the later dismissal of a guilty plea.
“In Idaho, Chris (Matimba) effectively has no conviction although it still remains a conviction for immigration purposes,” Christensen said. “Unfortunately, what people don’t realize is that in Idaho in order to use a withheld judgment under Idaho statute, a judge must first find a person guilty or that person must admit their guilt.”
Despite the criminal conviction, immigration officials had been approving a request to postpone his deportation for 12 years before he was detained last month.
In addition to the previous criminal conviction that no longer exists, Matimba’s deportation case is even more complicated, Christensen said. Though he has been married since 2012, Deon Matimba didn’t initiate the spousal naturalization process until last year.
Deon Matimba said she and Chris Matimba mutually decided to wait to file for his citizenship until a later date because his student visa expired the year before they got married and they thought a marriage soon after would look suspicious and act as a detriment to his ability to become a permanent resident.
But it wouldn’t have mattered at all, according to Christensen, who said that because of the 2007 order of removal, Matimba’s request for a permanent resident card, also known as a green card, would have been denied anyway.
And it was denied two weeks after Matimba was detained in June, despite Deon and Chris Matimba meeting with immigration officials for a marriage interview in April this year.
“Because he still has the 2007 order of deportation, he can’t meet the next step, which is to apply for the green card,” Christensen said. “We applied for a stay of removal with ICE even though we were told it was going to be denied before we even filed it.”
Christensen said that he also filed a motion to reopen the prior order of deportation with the immigration court in Aurora, Colorado, where Matimba was ordered for deportation in 2007.
“The judge ultimately denied the motion to reopen,” Christensen said.
This is by far one of the most unusual cases he has ever handled, Christensen added.
“I’ve been doing this for over seven years and the animosity at all levels under this administration towards immigration just baffles me,” he said. “It just seems so counter intuitive to common sense. I come from the perspective that unless you’re a Native American, you are an immigrant and the thing that makes this country great is it’s a hodgepodge of different people with diverse backgrounds and different ideas who came here to work hard and have freedoms and opportunities.”
Christensen continued, “Our country was founded by hard-working immigrants. Now all the sudden we are trying to rewrite the narrative and close down the borders. What a sad state of affairs.”
Deon Matimba has 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision to deny the motion to reopen, which expires on Aug. 15.
But having already spent thousands of dollars on his case so far, she said she can’t afford further legal services and doesn’t know where to turn next.
At this point, she said she has considered relocating to Zimbabwe to be with her husband despite deteriorating conditions in the country since the removal of former President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe recently held its first post-Mugabe election.
“Chris (Matimba) has two grandbabies that just think the world of him,” Deon Matimba said. “My kids treat him just like he was their own dad. His son is 11 and will be losing his father figure. My granddaughter loves to play with the dogs with grandpa Chris – she even likes cleaning up after him with her little shovel. Chris is our family. He has bailed us out of so many tough situations. He has been such a big part of our lives that this is just devastating.”
“As my stepdad, Chris has been an incredible person,” said Deon Matimba’s daughter, Tarryn Porath. “He has been there when my own dad hasn’t been, he has always made sure we have had working vehicles and he and my mom were the first people I called when I was pregnant.”
Porath continued, “His 11-year-old son won’t have a dad here for when he starts to become a man, he won’t be around for prom or to see his son grow up at all. My mom waited 36 years for him to come into her life. He has always paid his taxes and checked in with immigration even though there was always that weird case where he could be deported. He even paid child support for his son even though it wasn’t court-ordered. We’re just basically at the point that we want to give up because at every turn we’ve been denied.”
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