Archive | August, 2012

Oh Greta!

28 Aug

Today, FOBR (Friend of Benach Ragland) Erich Straub wrote a strong response to the nonsense spouted by Fox News talking head Greta Van Susteren, who waded into water over her head when she penned an op-ed stating that lawyers who helped DREAMers file applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were committing malpractice because the program was temporary and lawyers were doing the equivalent of turning their clients into the government authorities for removal.  I think Erich makes some great points, but I want to address some other factors that Greta may wish to consider.

Following Erich’s lead, I will disclose that I am one of the lawyers she accuses of committing malpractice.  Since 2009, I have applied for and obtained deferred action for nearly fifty people.  These include people on the brink of removal and others who were tired of living in the shadows and were willing to take the risk in an effort to better their lives.  And I am strongly encouraging DREAMers to take advantage of this opportunity.

Greta, suddenly seized with uncharacteristic concern for immigrants, believes that applying for DACA provides the government with all the tools it needs to remove an individual.  To those of us who practice in the immigration courts, we know that the government’s satisfaction of its burden of proof to establish removability is so low as to be practically laughable.  The government can prove deportability in immigration court by producing a form known as an I-213.  This is a document prepared by an immigration official that states that a certain individual is deportable.  That’s right.  The government can prove its charge that someone is deportable by producing another document that asserts that a person is deportable.  To establish deportability, the government needs little evidence and a DACA application, which would, concededly, do the trick, is overkill.  But wait, there’s more, Greta.  If a person is considered an applicant for admission, they bear the burden of proof to show that they belong in the U.S.  Establishing removability is easy.  It is removing people that is hard.  DACA is a recognition that DHS should spend its limited resources on those who present the most serious threats to public safety and the integrity of the system and not on kids who had nothing to do with their unlawful status and want nothing more than to study and work and contribute to the land they call home.

Greta also reminds us that she used to be a criminal defense lawyer, before she turned in her bar card for her Murdochian perch.  Now, many of my friends are criminal defense attorneys.  I admire them and their work.  But I envy their procedural protections.  They have a whole slew of amendments to the Constitution to protect the rights of their clients.  Their clients have a privilege against self-incrimination, the right to appointed counsel, the right to confront witnesses, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to a jury.  None of these rights apply in removal proceedings, which the Supreme Court described as civil, rather than criminal, in nature.  Greta seems to believe that immigrants in removal proceedings have anything close to a level playing field against the government.  I guess it is this level of ignorance that makes her such a perfect fit for Fox.

Finally, I can not say enough good things about Erich’s article.  What choice do these kids have but to try to seize the bone that has been thrown to them?  They know that they are getting scraps from the table.  They know that one party has steadfastly fought any effort to improve their situation and the other has lacked the courage to bring a real fight on the matter.  (If I have to tell you who’s who, you probably are reporting for Fox).  Yet, they are trying to take any opportunity to show the world that they want to fully integrate themselves into American society.

Greta, you call yourself a journalist.  Why not talk to some of these kids?  why not ask them why they care coming forward?  Have you ever heard of undocumented and unafraid?  These kids have demonstrated tremendous courage and have shown that they understand the values of this country better than any of the blowhards screaming about immigrants.  Their courage should not be surprising.  It is the essence of the immigrant experience.   It takes courage to leave your home and risk deserts, drug traffickers, rivers and freight trains to try to make a better life for oneself.  This is what every generation of immigrants has brough to this country.  Only a cynic like Greta would think that that courage should fail them when they have a chance to grasp a sliver of their DREAM.

The Problem with Non-citizen Voting

27 Aug

There is a lot in the news about unlawful voting these days.  Many states have enacted laws that require specific forms of voter identification before one can step into a voting booth.  Voting experts state that voter fraud is infinitesimally small, but the concern over ineligible people voting has grown despite the lack of evidence of its ubiquity.  The consequences for the non citizen who votes are drastic.  Unlawful voting is a ground of deportability and a ground of inadmissibility.  It is a basis for denial of citizenship.  However, removability can not be established by simply showing that an individual voted.  Such voting must be in violation of  law.  Many criminal statutes require knowledge that the act is illegal for conviction.  Others, known as strict liability offenses, are crimes regardless of the level of knowledge.  In addition, since the ground of removability requires that a violation of law occurred when the individual voted, defenses and procedural protections that attach to criminal prosecution must be in the mix when evaluating removability.  Courts have struggled with the overly harsh potential immigration consequences of a finding of a violation of law.  They have demanded that immigration courts dive deeply into the facts to determine if a violation of law occurred.

On August 22, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued two decisions regarding the immigration consequences of voting by non-citizens.  The outcomes are widely divergent and emphasize the importance of a careful and through recitation of the facts in cases where voting by non-citizens arises.    In Kimani v. Holder, the Court upheld the finding of inadmissibility for voting in violation of federal law against petitioner Kimani.  The Court found that Kimani had falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen and voted in violation of federal law.  However, in Keathley v. Holder, the Court sent the case back to the immigration judge to determine if Keathley made any representations of U.S. citizenship in registering to vote and to determine what the motor vehicle officials, who registered her to vote, understood her status to be.  The Court noted that the immigration judge found Keathley to be credible, but  felt that he could not consider any legal defenses to whether Keathley voted illegally.  The Court of Appeals held that any legal defenses to the crime of unlawful voting had to be considered in immigration proceedings and the immigration judge had to make findings on relevant factual issues.  The court determined that the case had to return to the immigration judge so that the judge could hear the testimony and reach factual conclusions.  The difference between these two decisions comes down to the particular facts of the acts of registering to vote and of voting.  In Kimani, the court found that the voting was a function of dishonesty and an effort to represent oneself as a citizen, whereas in Keathley, the court concluded that “a person who behaves with scrupulous honesty only to be misled by a state official should be welcome in the country.”

Last year, we represented a Palestinian man who volunteered in his citizenship interview that he had voted in a referendum election where a measure for a tax increase in support of the Mt. Healthy School District was on the ballot.  This was not a federal election, so only Ohio state law was implicated.  Our client registered to vote within a few days of arriving into the US as a permanent resident.  He went to obtain a driver’s license and was asked by the Ohio DMV official if he wanted to register to vote.  He asked her if he was allowed to vote and she told him “yes, in America, everyone can vote.”  He received his voter registration card in the mail and received notice of an election and went to vote on the tax measure.  When he went to vote, he produced his permanent resident card (green card) to the voting official, who asked if he had anything else.  When he produced a driver’s license, she sent him to the booth.  He left happy and proud, thinking that he had joined an important American tradition.  He did not think about it again until he applied for citizenship and he provided the full details to the immigration official, who asked him to obtain his registration documents from the Ohio Board of Elections.  He did so, and handed the government the documents it used to support its charges in removal proceedings that he voted in violation of law.  How’s that as a reward for scrupulous honesty?  In removal proceedings, we convinced an immigration judge that our client had no intention to violate the law and believed, based upon multiple official representations, that he was allowed to vote.  We argued that the Ohio statute requires a willful violation of law and he did not intentionally violate the law.  The judge found our client completely credible and terminated removal proceedings.  It is worth mentioning that the government behaved atrociously in this case, fighting his removal tooth and nail, despite the overwhelming evidence that he did not intentionally violate the law.  This even occurred in the beginning months of prosecutorial discretion, whose spirit did not trickle down to the office of chief counsel in Cleveland, Ohio.   Although our client ultimately prevailed, it took him two years to work through the maze of immigration court, when the government could have and should have ended the matter far sooner.

The Republican Party has endorsed state voter id laws in its 2012 platform.  Although voter fraud is exceedingly rare, it is likely that if provisions of the voter id plank in the GOP platform were to be enacted, we will see further idiocies like the one Cleveland Immigration & Customs Enforcement put our client through.

The Bureaucrats’ Revolt, Part III

24 Aug

We have paid a lot of attention to the complaint of some of the bureaucrats within ICE against their political leadership.  We have reported on the ICE Agents Union’s vote of “no confidence” in Director John Morton and the bizarre lawsuit filed by James T. Hayes against Janet Napolitano.  But yesterday, ten agents of  Immigration & Customs Enforcement filed a lawsuit against the administration charging that the President’s deferred action policy is illegal and enforcing it requires them to violate their oath of office.  This is, by far, the most ambitious effort by these unelected bureaucrats to undermine the political will of the people.

The agents assert that the new policy prohibits agents from doing their job, which they see as arresting and processing for removal proceedings every removable individual that they encounter.  They claim that they face disciplinary action if they arrest individuals who have been identified as “low priorities” by ICE leadership.  Finally, the agents claim that the public safety is at risk when they are not permitted to arrest certain removable individuals.  The agents filed in the Northern District of Texas, presumably because they thought it would be a friendly forum for their claims.

Their lawsuit is not likely to succeed.  The Supreme Court and the federal courts have emphasized over and over again that the decision to initiate and terminate removal proceedings lies squarely within the discretionary authority of the agency.  While one might think that these court decisions come from people challenging the agency’s initiation of removal proceedings, they have also been issued where people have sued the agency because they wanted the agency to initiate removal proceedings.  Over and over again, courts have stated that ICE has unreviewable discretion to begin or not begin removal proceedings.  The agents seems to think that these decisions give them as individual agents the authority to begin or not begin removal proceedings.  Wrong.  It gives the agency the authority  to make these decisions and these agents have supervisors and managers who are charged with enforcing the law as interpreted and defined by the agency.  The political leadership gets to make that call because, they, unlike the ICE agents, are the designees of the elected President.  For ICE agents to refuse to follow the legitimate directives of the political leadership is insubordination that would be intolerable in any other situation.

In addition, President Obama, Secretary Napolitano, and Director Morton did not invent deferred action.  Deferred action has been in place for over four decades.  In addition, although the bureaucrats claim that deferred action has always been an individualized determination and not used for large classes of individuals, that is not true.  The agency has granted deferred action to victims of domestic violence and certain widows of American citizens.  The size of the class of people eligible for deferred action does not render the deferred action designation inappropriate.

The lawsuit is clearly political.  It is a rearguard action by agents, and their political enablers, like anti-immigrant lawyer Kris Kobach and the restrictionist group Numbers USA.  These agents and their political handlers disagree with the policy and are airing their political differences as a legal issue.  The good news is that they are fighting a losing battle.  Their lawsuit will not survive and, politically, support for the deferred action program is growing.  An election is coming up and the voters will have an opportunity to decide whether the President should be re-elected.  The deferred action program will be included in the voter’s calculus.  Then, the right people, the American voters, will have a chance to pass on the program.  In the meantime, these bureaucrats have two choices: do their job or quit it.

 

Does Melky Cabrera have an immigration problem?

22 Aug

Last week, Major League Baseball suspended San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera for fifty games after he tested positive for having elevated levels of testosterone in his blood.  Such abnormal levels are strong indicators of the use of synthetic testosterone, which, apparently, enhances athletic prowess.  Well, you can’t say that it did not work.  Cabrera, a journeyman, was having a career season, leading MLB in hits, winning the Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Game, and leading the Giants to the top of the NL West.  He was on track to sign a huge contract in the off-season and it is reasonable to state that this failed drug test cost Melky tens of millions of dollars.  Since redemption is always available in sports (See Vick, Michael), Melky will get picked up in the off-season and make a big league club.  That is, if he is allowed to remain in the U.S.

ESPN analyst and noted legal analyst Rick Sutcliffe said today, “”You know, it makes you mad. First of all, this guy is over here in the United States on a working visa. He broke the law. What’s he doing still here?  I mean, forget the 50-game suspension from baseball and whether he can come back if they make the players [sic] or not. Why’s he still here? That visa should be taken away, and he should not be allowed to play over here again, or work over here again, in my opinion.”  Ah, Rick, why don’t you pitch and you let us handle the immigration law, OK?  There is so much wrong with this, that it is hard to know where to begin, but we’re adventurous, so let’s give it a shot.  First, it is not at all clear that Melky broke the law.  Melky failed a drug test imposed by his employer. He still remains employed, which is key to whichever temporary visa Melky may be on.  Now, certainly, drug offenses are treated seriously under the immigration laws.  What is important, however, in determining whether someone should be deported, are convictions.  And Melky has not been convicted of any offense.  He has not even been charged.  It is not even clear that the drug he used is illegal.  I see adds for products designed to help men with “low T.”  I’m pretty sure that it is not necessarily illegal to take testosterone, but it does stop you from playing major league baseball for a while.  Second, even if Melky were to be charged with deportability, he would be entitled to a hearing on his removal in immigration court.  The average time it takes to have a case fully heard in the San Francisco immigration court is 558 days.  It would take a long time to deport Melky Cabrera if he were deportable.

But, what if Melky went home to the Dominican Republic to serve out his suspension?  He might have a real hard time entering the U.S.  Perhaps, we did not give Mr. Sutcliffe enough credit?  There are different rules for who may enter the U.S. than for who can be deported from the U.S.  Why?  Who knows? But that is how it is.  An individual may be inadmissible (ineligible to enter) to the U.S. if they have admitted committing a violation of any law or regulation of a state, the United States or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance.  Whoa!  A person can be ineligible to enter if they admit using an illegal drug.  No conviction necessary.  Assuming that the drug Melky used is illegal, has Melky already admitted using a drug?  Has he rendered himself inadmissible?  Possibly.  And if he has not, what happens if he goes to the Embassy in Santo Domingo and he gets asked about it?  Will he admit it then?  What about when he lands in the U.S.?  Perhaps Melky ought not to fly into the U.S. through L.A., with all its Dodger fans, where he can expect to be questioned at length.

Also, what if it is reported (accurately or not, it does not really matter) that Melky shared his synthetic testosterone with another player?  Does this make Melky a drug trafficker?  Hope not, because the Immigration & Nationality Act renders anyone who a consular officer or customs official has reason to believe is a drug trafficker inadmissible to the U.S.  Put reason to believe together with the doctrine of consular non-reviewability, which prohibits courts from looking at the decisions of consular officers, and you have a situation where Melky could be permanently banned from the U.S. without any review of that decision.  All it could take is a report in the newspaper that could give a consular officer reason to believe.   Hope, for Melky’s sake, that no LA Times reporters are reading.

Judge Grants Bond for Mandatorily Detained Client Under 236(c) – A Sweet Victory for Benach Ragland!

21 Aug

This morning, we won bond for our client, who is mandatorily detained under 236(c) and hence, subject to mandatory detention. The Government lawyer, flanked by his supervisor, strenuously contended that mandatory is mandatory, but the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) found it in his jurisdiction to grant bond due to our creative lawyering and excellent grasp of recent case law.

Most attorneys never challenge the detention of a client under 236(c). It simply does not appear to be winnable. Our client, a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) since 1986, has a conviction for two crimes involving moral turpitude, which makes him ineligible for bond under 236(c). He was detained on June 28th in usual ICE-SWAT style. His family panicked and called our office for help.

Our client had never served any time in jail. Even following his conviction in federal court, he was simply given home detention with an ankle-monitoring bracelet. Hence, his family was shocked and aghast that immigration authorities would grab him from his home and detain him when the federal court did not think that was necessary! We explained that this was business as usual and we would do everything in our power to get relief from removal for him, but also explained that since he had two crimes involving moral turpitude, he was mandatorily detained under 236(c). However, we also explained to them that he was eligible for LPR Cancellation of Removal under 240(A), since he has lived in the U.S. as an LPR continuously for more than 25 years and has no aggravated felony. Therefore, we promised to work on his relief application.

However, our client was still unhappy. Since he had not made any provisions for his long-time business, he had no one to look after it in his absence and it started to fail without his expertise. He had a pressing need to be out of detention due to his business, and his family consistently asked whether there was an opportunity for him to get bond. We clearly explained to them, on several occasions, that the likelihood of that happening is zero to null.

Still, his wonderful and loving family did not quite get why he was detained mandatorily. They were anxious to get him out. To keep up with our reputation of zealously defending our clients, I consistently called the law clerks at EOIR to ask whether the NTA had been filed. I called the EOIR hotline almost every day to see if his Master Calender had been scheduled. Two weeks flew by. The clerks at the Court told me that DHS had not filed the NTA for our client and he was not in their system. I also called the DHS on many occasions to ask them to file the NTA but never got a response from them. I either got routed to a person who did not know what was going on or did not have the file or simply got a voice-mail.

Angered by what appeared to be DHS lethargy as usual, I asked Andres Benach what we should do to get them to file the NTA with the Court. Andres, since he is absolutely brilliant, suggested filing a Matter of Joseph Hearing, not because it is winnable but because it would at least get the NTA filed with the Court. We thought we would not win it but it would serve its purpose, which was to get the client a speedy hearing since he was prima facie eligible for relief from removal under 240(A).

I waited for instructions from Thomas who agreed and gave me the task of drafting the Matter of Joseph Hearing motion. We filed it on July 19 and the IJ granted it, setting the bond hearing for August 21, 2012, followed by a Master Calendar Hearing. We finally had the NTA filed with the Court and we seemed to be back on track with getting our client his day in front of an IJ.

We had three weeks to draft the motion for his custody and bond determination hearing. I went into every office at Benach Ragland and whined about how this was an impossible task since he was mandatorily detained under 236(c). And truth be told, it is an impossible task. In order to guide me, Thomas handed me a copy of Diop v. ICE/Homeland Security, a Third Circuit case, where the Court had ruled that mandatory detention becomes unreasonable after a certain point. Of course, in Diop, the client had been detained for over two years, while our client had been in detention for like a month. He also gave me a copy of the handy ACLU Practice Advisory on Prolonged Mandatory Detention and Bond Eligibility, telling me that I had to come up with something because we were about creative lawyering and zealously providing for our clients.

However, none of the usual arguments for why our client should be granted bond even if he is mandatorily detained appeared to hit the nail on the head. He had not been detained for long enough. He had not been released from custody and then detained at a later time. He did not have any medical needs. Still, we found Diop helpful because it used the concurring opinion of Judge Kennedy in Demore v. Kim to say that after a certain point in time, mandatory detention may violate due process and demand a hearing. The Third Circuit in Diop also concluded that when mandatory detention becomes unreasonable, the burden shifts to the Government to show at the bond hearing why continued detention is consistent with the purpose of preventing flight and danger to community. We latched onto that.

We also took a road-trip to visit our client in detention, something that more lawyers ought to do. Our client has great equities. He has been a long-time resident of the United States. He has a U.S. citizen spouse and three U.S. citizen children. His mother is a lawful permanent resident who resides with him. He is the owner of a successful business that employs 13-14 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. He did not commit any violent crimes so he is not a danger to the community. He is not a flight risk since he has a business to manage, family to provide for and clearly eligible for relief from removal. He would never repeat what he did. If we could prevail in shifting the burden to the government to show why he was a flight risk and danger to the community, and have a battle over equities, we should surely prevail at both the bond hearing and cancellation hearing.

On August 17, I hand-delivered our motion for a bond and custody hearing to both the Immigration Court and ICE Office of Chief Counsel, in which we argued that our client had been mandatorily detained for an unreasonable period, which gave the IJ jurisdiction to determine his bond, and that mandatory does not mean mandatory beyond a reasonable period of time. Last night, we worked till 9pm to compiled 466 pages of evidence, including 22 letters and over 2000 petition signatures, for his 42(A) Cancellation of Removal application and filed it with the Court today before his bond hearing. I also mailed a copy of it to USCIS to fee it in and I am eagerly awaiting the fee receipts.

Going into the bond hearing, the IJ gave us the opportunity to tell him why he had jurisdiction over the case. Thomas explained that since our client had been detained for 54 days before getting his first hearing, he had been held for an unreasonable period of time. He also stated that the case had been unreasonably delayed, in part, due to failure of ICE to file the NTA with the court in a timely manner. The IJ appeared to agree with Thomas that the detention was unreasonable but also explained that DHS had in fact, filed the NTA with the court on July 2, 2012, in a timely manner. It was due to Court error that the client had not been scheduled for a hearing until the Court received his Matter of Joseph hearing motion. The IJ appeared almost apologetic for the court error and repeatedly stated that Mr. Ragland was diligent in his zealous efforts to get a speedy trial for his client.

The Government virulently opposed the grant of any bond and repeatedly stated that mandatory means mandatory. After the IJ found jurisdiction because he also thought that the length of time our client had been detained was unreasonable, he appeared to shift the burden to the Government to prove why our client should still be detained. The Government argued zealously that our client had committed very serious crimes and would likely not prevail at merits. The IJ listened intently but he sided with Thomas and granted the bond order!

The Government countered that they would file for an automatic stay within 24 hours, which means that even if the judge grants bond, ICE plans to challenge it and our client would remain detained. In response, the IJ stated that he did not have any individual merit hearing on his calendar for this year! Our client would need to remain in detention till January 2013 in the least! Seeing the predicament of our client, the IJ gave us the only administrative time available on his calendar for an individual merits hearing: September 7, 2012.

Outside the courtroom, the Government announced its intention to appeal the bond decision and file an automatic stay. Later in the day, we spoke again with the Government attorneys and they decided not to pursue the automatic stay.

This means that our client is free to go home to his wonderful family and come back to court for his cancellation hearing, for which we are preparing zealously. His family is absolutely ecstatic about having him back. He can go back to his business and provide for his family, which is all he has wanted to do ever since he got detained. We expect to go to court on September 7, 2012 and win his cancellation of removal so his family can put this behind them, and everyone can move on.

I learned two vital lessons from this. One, we must not concede every allegation the Government makes and we must actually make the Government do their job. Mandatory does not really mean mandatory. And second, family is absolutely critical to winning relief in immigration court. If it was not for the incredibly effort and support of his loving family, our client would face a much more lengthy detention.

Onward.

Dree Collopy Leads Immigration Training at ABA Annual Meeting

21 Aug

As Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section on Litigation’s Immigration Litigation Committee, Dree Collopy recently collaborated with immigration attorneys from across the country to develop and conduct an immigration training at the ABA 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.  In partnership with the ABA Commission on Immigration, Dree’s committee provided a pro bono training program designed to encourage attorneys to serve immigrants in need of a zealous advocate and to equip those attorneys with the skills they need to provide high quality, effective representation for people in removal proceedings.

From August 2nd to the 7th, Chicago, Illinois was inundated with members of the American Bar Association, who congregated in “the Second City” for the ABA’s 2012 Annual Meeting.  Everywhere you looked there were lawyers.  Some were learning about architecture on tour boats on the Chicago River, while others marveled at the views from atop the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and shopped on Michigan Avenue and State Street “that great street.”  Still more ate deep-dish pizza and Italian beef, perhaps while tapping their feet to the blues rhythm at Buddy Guy’s Legends or cheering on the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.  Amidst the city’s many attractions, however, thousands of America’s attorneys gathered to further the practice of law and the legal profession.  Countless engaged in Continuing Legal Education and leadership meetings focused on strategizing another year aimed at serving the public, defending liberty, and delivering justice for all.

One of the Annual Meeting’s critical goals was to develop ways in which ABA members could serve the public by providing pro bono services to underrepresented populations.  At the forefront of the dialogue was the plight of the most vulnerable groups in America.  Facing language barriers, increased detention, notario fraud, erosion of due process, and a lack of access to counsel, immigrants and refugees are in desperate need of skilled advocates in the fight for justice.  As Co-Chair of the ABA Section on Litigation’s Immigration Litigation Committee, Dree collaborated with committed attorneys from across the country to address this very need.  Together, they educated attorneys on Immigration Court procedures and assisted them in developing the skills needed to represent clients in Immigration Court.  Dree and the other contributors trained attorneys on how to seek various forms of relief from removal, and opined on ethical issues that arise when representing clients in removal proceedings.  Chicago Immigration Judge Giambastiani generously donated her time to provide tips from the bench, passionately affirming the need for effective representation in Immigration Court and urging attorneys to participate in defining a more just system by undertaking pro bono immigration cases.

As an attorney who avidly represents this vulnerable group daily, it was inspiring for Dree to witness corporate, tax, and tort attorneys focusing their attention on addressing the pronounced need for pro bono representation for immigrants.  The Immigration Litigation Committee’s programs ensured that those committed attorneys boarded their flights from Chicago equipped to zealously and effectively advocate their immigrant clients’ matters before the nation’s Immigration Courts.  Dree boarded her flight from O’Hare to Washington National encouraged by the commitment of our nation’s attorneys and her Committee’s ability to further the mission of increasing pro bono immigration representation nationwide.  Whether representing the single mother of two U.S. citizen children facing removal from the United States, the political activist fleeing imprisonment and torture, or the undocumented victim of years of abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen, the dedicated attorneys who congregated in Chicago will be defending liberty and delivering justice to people in great need of skilled and trained advocates.

Day of Dreams

15 Aug

For many, it was a day that they thought would never come.  Immigrant communities, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were all aflame today, August 15, 2012, as foreign-born young people celebrated the opening of the “Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program.  The Citizenship and Immigration Service officially began accepting applications for deferred action for young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, have resided continuously for at least five years,  successfully attended school and, generally stayed out of trouble.  For the last two months, we have met hundreds of these young people and learned of their dreams to be doctors, lawyers, architects, business owners and soldiers.  We witnessed the nervous optimism of their parents, as they watched their children realize the opportunity that they have struggled for for decades.  And we have felt the hope and joy as these young people seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to more fully integrate themselves into American society.

Today was a magnificent day.  Benach Ragland lawyers, Andres Benach and Thomas Ragland, participated in an event sponsored by United We Dream, the National Immigration Forum, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association to provide pro bono counsel to young people preparing applications for deferred action.  The media was there and, boy, were these kids ready.  More than any lawyer, the DREAMers could articulate their claim to the American Dream.  I do not know how one looks into the eyes of these brave and amazing young people and tells them that their dreams are impossible.  The fact that today even occurred is a testament to the commitment of DREAMers like Prerna Lal, Gaby Pacheco, Matias Ramos, Mo Abdollahi and countless others who organized, marched, got themselves arrested and forced the Administration to recognize their humanity.

Thomas Ragland spent twenty minutes speaking with a mother from El Salvador, who had accompanied her daughter to the event.  After answering a number of her questions, Thomas says, “I saw the tension disappear from her face.  She smiled broadly and said, ‘I am so excited.'”  Today’s event meant that her daughter would have a chance to realize her dreams, unlock her potential and become a closer part of the American community, a community she always saw as her own.  In Chicago, 11,000 showed up for a city-sponsored event at the Navy Pier promoting deferred action for undocumented youth.  The hope and potential unleashed by today’s program will benefit American society for decades to come.

Today was just a beginning.  The DACA program does not provide a long-term solution.  That is up to Congress, which has failed these young people and America.  It is certain, however, that this group of engaged, motivated and optimistic young people will continue to agitate for meaningful immigration reform.  With the security of work permits and a reprieve from the threat of removal, there is little that they can not accomplish.