DEER PARK - An immigrant from Honduras who lives on Long Island is fighting a court battle that could affect thousands of immigrants convicted of crimes in New York.
Natanael Varenga is in the U.S. legally and lives in Deer Park. He is facing deportation because he pleaded guilty to assault in 2009. He was here with "temporary protective status," but lost that status when he was convicted of a felony.
Varenga says it was self-defense, and says his then-lawyer told him he would get probation. Varenga says he did not know he would face deportation.
About a year later, a new law was enacted requiring lawyers to tell their clients that their immigration status could be affected by their pleas and trial outcomes.
"Like anything, if you go to a hospital and you subject yourself to a procedure, prior to that procedure you must make an informed decision," says Phil Solages, Verenga's attorney. "Simply stated here, before an immigrant defendant, or anybody as a matter of fact, pleads guilty to a crime, they need to know what the consequences, the collateral consequences to that crime are."
Solages says he'll argue the case before the state's highest court next month.
A lower court ruled in Varenga's favor, but the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office appealed. The DA was not available to comment on the case on Monday due to the Columbus Day holiday.