Judge Orders Deportation of Undocumented Dancer Passing Through Ohio

An immigration judge in Ohio has ordered the deportation of a dance troupe member after the group was stopped by police passing through the state on their way to Joliet, Illinois from New York. Five members of an Aztec dance group were on their way to a dance ceremony on October 21 when they were pulled over by police in Ohio, as reported by Fox News Latino. Four members of the group are from Mexico and one is from Guatemala. All five are undocumented. When police discovered their immigration status, they turned them over to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their case illustrates some of the problems faced by entertainers seeking to come to or stay in the United States.

The judge’s order met with alarm in New York, where the dance group is well-known in the arts scene. Supporters in New York raised around $3,000 for the members’ legal defense, and a group in Chicago has formed to help the members’ families.

Four members of the group were released on bail. Of those four, two have until December to voluntarily depart the country, and two have another court date. Only one, Joel Almeida Gonzalez, was ordered deported right away. According to the judge’s order, he is to be returned to Mexico on November 8.

A representative of a dance group in Chicago who is familiar with the five dancers, Roberto Ferreyra of Nahui Ollin, stated that the case demonstrates the need for a change in immigration law that would allow productive immigrants to remain in the country. “There should be a way that people who contribute to this country can work,” he said. Currently, immigration law does not have a specific procedure for legal immigration of artists, unless they come on an employment-based petition. Given that entertainers and artists rarely have full-time, long-term employment with a single company or organization, this may not be a viable alternative for most. Options available specifically to artists include the “O” or “P” visa, nonimmigrant visas available to artists visiting for specific events. They only apply to temporary visits and do not, by themselves, lead to any permanent immigrant status. They also require a sponsor in the U.S. to file the petition, and they have a large number of criteria that a prospective visitor must meet.

These types of nonimmigrant visa have been in the news in recent years because of issues with high-profile entertainers who could not get approval for one reason or another. For example, U.S. immigration authorities revoked British singer Lily Allen’s P visa in 2007 after she had some criminal trouble in London. She was allowed into the U.S. on a tourist visa, but had to cancel shows and appearances since she did not have approval to work. The late British singer Amy Winehouse could not enter the country to perform at the Grammy Awards in 2008 after the U.S. embassy in London denied her visa application.

Ohio immigration lawyer Gus Shihab helps people, artists and entertainers. who wish to visit the United States or move here permanently. Contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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