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BR Has a New Lawyer!

17 Dec


We have waited just over three months for this day, where we can introduce Adi Nuñez as an attorney at Benach Ragland!  Although Adi has been with us since September, Adi was sworn in as a member of the bar of the State of Maryland today and now has all the rights, privileges and obligations of being a licensed attorney.  We welcome Adi into this profession that we love and know that Adi will use her powers to benefit our clients, their families and communities for years to come.IMG_1537

This is not to say that she has not already used those powers.  Behind the scenes, Adi has poured her heart and soul into some of our most significant cases, such as Dree Collopy’s recent victory in a gang-based asylum claim for a woman and her son detained at the federal gulag in Artesia, NM.  She also was there for the great jamon and wine event last week to celebrate the holidays at BR.

A Californian of Mexican heritage, Adi joins an office that represents much of Latin America- Cuba (Andres), Colombia (Sandra), Honduras (Liana), and Peru (Mariela).  If Cubans played soccer (excuse me, futbol), we could have a World Cup.  Adi moved east to attend Catholic University for law school.  While there, she was a Student Attorney aHoliday luncht the Immigration Clinic taught by Dree Collopy.  She made quite an impression on her professor who scooped her right up after her graduation.

While Adi’s academic career included a couple of unfortunate detours working for the government on immigration enforcement issues, we do not believe that it was anything that a few months of winning cases for people won’t fix.  Also, some of her mother’s Mexican food would help too.

Adi has the care, passion and intellect to represent immigrants and their families well.  We expect many more great things from her as she grows into her career and congratulate her on this important milestone.


Coke’s Beautiful Ad

3 Feb


Coca-Cola had a beautiful advertisement during the Super Bowl.  The ad featured America the Beautiful sung in a variety of languages by Americans of all different ethnicities.  It is easy to be jaded and cynical in that this was an attempt to sell one of the more unhealthy products we have created.  However, in the current political climate and the debates raging on immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism, the Coke ad showed that one of the most successful companies on the planet has cast its lot with a multicultural and inclusive America.  Of course, it made the decision to produce the ad based upon demographics, market research and a bottom line analysis and not due to adherence to a great moral principle.  But honestly, who cares?  Purity tests are for Stalin.  Coke’s ad represented a vision of America that is not only accurate but also beautiful in its kaleidoscopic inclusivity.

Lots of words have been written about the backlash against Coke for airing the add.  We will not waste our time on these modern-day know-nothings.  They are destined for the dustbin of history and we hope that by failing to give them more attention, we will only accelerate that process.

What the Coke ad did for me was remind me of a talk I have given to second graders at Lafayette Elementary School in DC twice in the past three years and I will certainly do it again when my youngest reaches that grade.  The second graders study immigration and I get to spend a morning with the seven year olds and talk about immigration with them.  It is always fascinating and hilarious.  But what is so amazing is how seven year olds simply get it.  They understand why people immigrate.  Even if they do not understand the complexities, they understand that people have come to America because they dream of a better life.  The concept is entirely natural to them.

Mr. Kings class

I always start my discussion with the second graders by explaining that America is an idea.  Unlike, for example, being French, a person is not an American because her mother, her mother’s mother, her great grandmother and so on were all born here.  A person is American because she and her family believed in the ideals of the American experiment, ideals we have not always held up, fought wars to establish and keep struggling to realize.  I explain to them that their parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came to this country so that one day they could attend Lafayette Elementary, so that they would be raised believing that they can do anything.  So railsplitter_i52428_450px obama-childthat their lot in life would not be pre-determined by the circumstances of their births.  This may seem like high-falutin’ stuff for second graders, but they understand that America is not a land of kings and czars, but a land where an unschooled frontier lawyer could become the greatest president this country has ever seen and that a mixed race son of an immigrant could be the first black President.

After discussing that for a while, we turn the talk to tacos.  The kids always understand that the food they love comes from somewhere else and they are always grateful for the presence of these cuisines that they have come to love.  Growing up, I thought all food was Italian (it was Long Island), but these kids are surrounded by Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Central American and African cuisine.  They are bearers of remarkably diverse culinary passports.

So, the Coke ad reminded me of these kids who understand and value immigration and think that their world is a more interesting and better place for having a broad spectrum of ethnicities at their feet.  They are growing up in an age of incredible richness and texture, a richness that was captured beautifully by the Coke ad.

BR Eats Tacos and Thinks About Immigration

26 Feb

el sol

I had the best tacos I have ever had this weekend in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The whole Benach Ragland attorney gang headed out to the country to meet in the quiet of the mountains.  And, of course, in the middle of rural America, we found tacos.  Delicious tacos.

I used to work with a colleague who used to discuss the virtues of America’s unique immigrant history by pointing out the benefits to American cuisine.  “Have you ever tried to get good Mexican food in Rome?” he would bellow.  And it was true.  In many cities in the U.S., you could go a month and not eat the same cuisine twice.  Many of us, especially those of us who live in coastal American cities, believe that this is the sole domain of the urban dweller.  However, the modern American reality is that immigrants are everywhere in America and bringing their cuisine and their vitality with them, restoring fading American towns.

Harrisonburg is in the middle of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  The valley is a rural swath of land wedged between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East and the Appalachian mountains to the West known for its fertile soil and large agricultural output.  The Shenandoah Valley has been a quiet place since it was a center of attention during the U.S. Civil War, when multiple armies chased each other and clashed over its rolling farmland.  The destruction of Virginia farmland caused by the intense campaigning was one consideration that persuaded Robert E. Lee to invade the North in 1862 before he was check by the Army of the Potomac at Antietam Creek.  Since the last troops pulled out of the valley in 1865, it has returned to peace and quiet.

It is still heavily agricultural.  A large chicken processing plant is in Harrisonburg.  The plant has attracted thousands of undocumented workers who have had to do the gruesome work of turning birds into poultry.  These immigrants have done the dirty work of America’s need for cheap food for decades.  Their children, often American citizens, are now finding their own success in America in ways that don’t involve plucking chickens.  The sacrifice of the parents and their own stunted dreams bear fruit in the lives of the children.

What does this have to do with tacos??  Well, the children of one of these poultry factory workers have opened El Sol, a tiny little taqueria in Harrisonburg.  The menu is small.  They make tacos, quesadillas, and some fine Mexican stew.  But by keeping their menu small, they have adopted a leading principle of business- do one thing better than all others and you will be rewarded.  And, boy, do they.  El Sol’s tacos are the freshest and tastiest we have ever had.  Each of the tacos ($1.25 each!) is simple, as they are in Mexico.  A piping hot fresh corn tortilla filled with pork, steak or beans and cheese.  And, yes, they presumably have local chicken!  The fillings of shredded pork or chicharrones, fried pork skin, are delicious and topped with fresh cilantro and onions.  A Mexican coke washes it down nicely.  My partners also really enjoyed the carne asada, but I was too busy with the pork to notice.

The delightful Isabel Castillo works the front room, bringing hot plates of tacos to the Mexican families who pour in for a taste of home.  Her brother, Luis, does the cooking.  El Sol is a delightful, sunny café that brightens a street that would otherwise be a dreary monument to the better yesterday of Harrisonburg.