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Saturday, February 24, 2001

Chef Chai can remain
in Hawaii for now

Immigration officials allow
him to stay until an appeals
court rules on deportation

15 years of INS troubles

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Beth Ann Nishijima was relieved after hearing her close friend, restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree, will not be deported Monday.

"He's just like a brother to me," said Nishijima, of Nori's Saimin and Snacks on the Big Island, who's known Chaowasaree for nearly 10 years. "We'll see what happens from here."

Immigration and Naturalization Service officials voluntarily decided yesterday not to deport Chaowasaree, a Thai national, until a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rules on Chaowasaree's emergency motion for stay of deportation. The panel is expected to make a decision by March 16.

Chaowasaree's attorney, James Stanton, filed the emergency motion with the 9th Circuit on Wednesday. It appealed a federal district court order that denied Chaowasaree's move to block the deportation.

"The court has indicated their willingness to consider the case," Immigration District Director Donald Radcliffe said yesterday.

But immigration attorneys are planning to file a brief in opposition to the request, Radcliffe said.

Chaowasaree is being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. He has been held since Feb. 13.

Chaowasaree owns Chai's Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace and Singha Thai in Waikiki, employing more than 70 people.

He has undergone a long battle with the Immigration Service. Deportation proceedings began when his marriage to Victoria Dubray was not considered bona fide after immigration officials received conflicting information about addresses, bank accounts and their relationships with others during their interview.

His problems intensified after he left Hawaii on Jan. 20, 2000, pending an appeal of deportation, to visit his ill father in Bangkok. Chaowasaree believed it was permissible to leave the United States after he was issued a temporary green card by an immigration official.

When he returned 16 days later, officials told him his status in the country was terminated.

Nishijima collected more than seven pages of signatures in support of Chaowasaree staying in Hawaii.

John Delaney, manager of Chai's Island Bistro, collected more than 1,000 signatures.

"I'm just elated," Delaney said when he learned of the recent motion. "It's a ray of light and deservedly so. ... But it's not over yet."

 | | |

Immigration troubles
span 15 years

Chai Chaowasaree's 15-year entanglement with the Immigration and Naturalization Service is detailed in federal court documents:


Bullet Chaowasaree enters the United States in August as a non-immigrant visitor.


Bullet In October, he marries Victoria Dubray, a U.S. citizen, and is granted conditional permanent resident status.


Bullet Chaowasaree opens Singha Thai restaurant on Ala Moana Boulevard.


Bullet In April, Chaowasaree and Dubray petition to make him a permanent resident. The INS interviews them in July and September.


Bullet June: The INS denies the petition, "finding that the marriage was a sham," and begins deportation proceedings.
Bullet October: An immigration judge rules against the INS, saying that under federal law, it should have ruled within 90 days. The agency had taken 20 months.


Bullet The Immigration Court reverses the ruling in December, agreeing with the INS that Chaowasaree was "deportable," but allows him to stay pending an appeal.


Bullet Chaowasaree opens Chai's Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace.


Bullet January: Chaowasaree goes to Thailand to visit his sick father. Before leaving, he contacts the INS' Honolulu office and is told he could travel. He is given a temporary green card.
Bullet Feb. 5: Upon returning, Chaowasaree is told by immigration officials at the airport that he would not be allowed into the country. They say the approval he'd been given was in error. He is allowed entry, however, because of questions about his status.
Bullet March 1: The Board of Immigration Appeals grants the government's motion to dismiss Chaowasaree's appeal because he had left the country while it was pending. Chaowasaree fights that decision up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


Bullet Jan. 12: With all appeals exhausted, the INS tells Chaowasaree to report for deportation on Feb. 13.
Bullet Jan. 23: Chaowasaree holds a gala second anniversary celebration for Chai's Island Bistro. The party is taped by KHON television as part of its "Hawaii's Kitchen" series.
Bullet Feb. 13: Chaowasaree is arrested. His lawyers file a request for a temporary restraining order and a writ of habeas corpus to delay his deportation.
Bullet Feb. 17: U.S. District Judge David Ezra grants an emergency stay allowing Chaowasaree to remain in the country until Monday, pending further court proceedings.

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