Freza v. Attorney General United States, No. 21-2259 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Freza, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, became a lawful permanent U.S. resident in 2004. In 2012, he was convicted of robbery, aggravated assault with a firearm, burglary, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. While Freza was serving his ten-year sentence, removal proceedings were initiated against him under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Freza told the IJ that he had attempted to contact pro bono legal organizations, but none could take his case; he had no resources. At Freza’s second master calendar hearing in February 2020, the IJ proceeded with Freza pro se. On March 18, Freza applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Due to staffing shortages during the pandemic, Freza’s third hearing occurred in October 2020, with Freza appearing pro se via video. The merits hearing was set for December and later rescheduled for January 2021. A pro bono attorney first spoke to Freza the day before the hearing.
The IJ denied her motion to continue the hearing for 30 days, stating that Freza had been aware of his merits hearing “for quite some time.” The merits hearing continued with Freza proceeding pro se and testifying about his experiences of and fears of future violence. The BIA affirmed the removal order. The Third Circuit vacated. The IJ’s denial of a continuance for Freza’s counsel to prepare to adequately represent him violated Freza’s right to counsel.