Immigration Practice Group

The Immigration Practice Group attended a national training on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, which was organized by the Defending Immigrants Partnership. This training is an annual event that brings together practitioners from every state of the country to discuss what public defenders are doing within our organizations to protect the complex rights of immigrants in criminal cases. Since the landmark decision of Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), most jurisdictions have been trying to urgently meet these obligations. Since Padilla, the Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office (SPD) formed its Immigration Practice Group.

A challenge to adequately addressing immigration consequences seems to be getting attorneys to recognize their obligations under Padilla. For many years in Wisconsin, criminal defendants have been warned at the plea colloquy that they may be deported as a result of their conviction. See Wis. Stat. Sec. 971.08(1)(c). This general admonition is clearly insufficient under Padilla.

The Immigration Practice Group's main objective is to assist our attorneys in understanding the immigration consequences their clients face upon conviction of a crime. This analysis is often complex and is specifically tailored to each client through completing the Immigration Practice Group Questionnaire, which screens for potential immigration consequences.

The Immigration Practice Group has made connections with immigration resources through the Defending Immigrants Partnership, which connects the SPD's practice group to many well respected national immigration organizations focusing on immigration consequences in criminal convictions. There are organizations within Wisconsin that we have connections with, as well. In addition, the UW Law School’s Immigration Justice Clinic has started a relationship with the SPD, allowing the SPD to refer clients to the clinic for representation in immigration proceedings or to assist with complex Padilla advice.

The Immigration Practice Group website provides resources to staff and private attorneys. This website lists contact information for the Immigration Practice Group members, as well as immigration consequences resources. The SPD currently has an immigration listserv for staff attorneys, which has recently become a message board. The Immigration Practice Group uses this message board to give staff attorneys broader access to immigration consequences advice from the Immigration Practice Group. The Immigration Practice Group is available to assist attorneys in any case where your client is not a natural born citizen. There are currently three Immigration Practice Group coordinators to serve staff attorneys and private bar attorney throughout the state. They are fielding questions by SPD region. Please do not hesitate to reach out. 

Immigration Practice Group Coordinators

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Juan Ramirez was born in Colombia and immigrated to the United States at the age of 9. Once in the U.S. he lived in Florida with his parents. He graduated law school in 2017 from Michigan State College of Law. In law school, he participated in the immigration law clinic at MSU working primarily with special immigrant juveniles and doing naturalization clinics. He also worked for Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan (“FLS”) in law school providing legal services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. After law school, he joined the agency in the Racine trial office and has been working there since graduation. He handles the majority of the Spanish speaking clients in the Racine office.

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  Melissa Nepomiachi

  Email:  nepomiachim@opd.wi.gov 

Melissa Nepomiachi graduated law school and joined the public defender's office in 2011. As the daughter of Argentine first generation immigrants, she always took an interest in working with immigrant communities. In college, she majored in Political Science and Latin American Studies, during which she also studied abroad to Latin America to hone in on her Spanish language skills. Prior to law school, she worked with as a Constituent Liaison in the Office of a New York City State Senator  providing services to underserved immigrant communities. At the University of Wisconsin Law School, she was a member of the Latino Law Student Association, took coursework in immigration law,and participated in several legal clinics including a Domestic Violence/U-Visa clinic and criminal defense clinics. Her knowledge at the intersection of criminal and immigration law is largely self –taught after working with non-citizen clients. She feels privileged to help others in the legal field develop their understanding of this complex and always changing area of law to better serve clients. In her free time, she likes spending time with her family, her dogs, going to concerts, and spending time outside.