Date: April 17, 2018
I’m revisiting our early good communication habits and writing you an email because I miss you and I know I won’t get to share all of the details I want to in the shuffle between getting home from the airport, picking up Mimi from daycare, and getting you off to your flight. Syl is in my arms peacefully sleeping, so I’m drinking bad airplane coffee and eating those amazing cinnamon cookies and writing to you. Stolen time.
The AILA [American Immigration Lawyers Association] conference last week was just what I needed. The thought of paying hundreds of dollars to sit in a hotel basement conference room for two full days was less than appealing, as you know, and I was nervous to put myself out to the world as an immigration attorney. But business cards in hand, I forced myself to talk to strangers and ask a question during one of the panels and lo and behold: I actually had fun (and took away so many practical skills).
The room was full of knowledgeable, inspiring people with remarkable careers. And listening to them speak about their work and the state of immigration law under this administration made me feel so enraged at all of the injustice (rage being excellent motivation): one attorney’s client had been pulled over for a broken windshield and was put into removal proceedings. His story reminded me of that movie we saw years ago about the young musician who had a full life here and then jumped a turnstile in the New York subway and ends up in detention. That a small infraction (often that stems from not having sufficient resources to fix a windshield) can lead to detention and deportation seems so unjust.
Some panelists talked about the government priority to build more detention centers near the border with Mexico. Many many panelists talked about increased hostility they or their clients experienced in immigration court. Attorneys who had been practicing for decades reported government challenges to petitions that were earlier considered straightforward.
There was a panel with ICE representatives, who confirmed that they were under orders to prioritize any person with removal orders (just look at the news and you know they have a broad mandate) and that Dreamers with removal orders aren’t protected. The panelists discussed protocol around making arrests at courthouses, a practice ICE uses in communities that don’t cooperate with the criminal alien program (I.e. cities that don’t require their police force to hold people for ICE to later detain). He hinted at the injustice he saw in this retaliatory practice by saying that he didn’t want to have to detain people that way, but then defensively said he wasn’t going to apologize for it. In other words, that’s what they get for not getting on board.
Both of the ICE panelists talked a lot about their orders. While they had an audience of adversaries, it seemed there was more than just trying to appear less culpable for practices they engage in that we lawyers might not agree with. It was my sense that they were under broad orders to exercise aggressive tactics to rid the US of as many undocumented people as possible, and that they were comfortable saying “orders are orders.” Pair that with no right to an attorney in removal defense proceedings and a nationalist administration that has unbridled animus toward the eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country and has made it clear that it wants them gone, despite their contributions, despite having US citizen children, and irrespective of the danger that may await them, and this feels like a breeding ground for injustice.
There was also some hope: immigration attorneys discussing times they reminded opposing government counsel of its burden of proof and were successful at terminating action against their clients, smart practitioners using litigation tools to make sure their clients received justice, and those who have been in the trenches recommending good policy change to lawmakers, including a push to make immigration courts [currently part of the DOJ/executive branch] Article 1 courts and therefore more independent. (Here is that amazing John Oliver clip I told you about.)
I feel so ready to roll up my sleeves: there is so much to do.
Oh, and I have to tell you about this serendipitous encounter! On the second day, after I had exercised my conference muscles a bit, I went to pump [milk, for my 4-month-old] during one of the sessions and was told that there was not a webcast, though there had been one the day before. This meant that in order to pump, I had to miss the content of the session and the [Continuing Legal Education] credits I had paid for, and I was so frustrated. But as I was pumping, exploring the conference materials and trying to find the most productive thing I could do short of watching the panel, I noticed a conference attendee list and downloaded it. I spent the next 20 minutes looking up attendees from Michigan, including a woman who had started her own practice, who had practiced for over twenty years, and who had an impressive career and strong ties to the immigration bar. I decided I would try to find her in the crowd. I put my pumping gear away, got dressed, and snuck into the back of the conference space to catch the final minutes of the panel discussion. I glanced to my left, and did a double take- there was the woman I had read about! I leaned over and asked if she was from Michigan and told her I was, too, and that I had looked her up. We whispered in the back for another five minutes and she was so kind and personable. She offered to put me in touch with another Detroit immigration attorney. And when we parted ways, she went directly to the stage – she was a panelist in the next discussion.
Ok, lots more to share but that is the run down for now. I can’t wait to see you when we get home!