Our job, as immigration lawyers, is to give our clients a fair chance under the law, help them navigate the system and be reunited with their families.
We’ve been called “dirty immigration lawyers.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions says we cheat to help immigrants and asylum-seekers to lie on applications. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every immigration lawyer I know is a person of integrity. We did not go into this branch of law to make money, because for the most part you don’t. We practice because there is a strong desire to help people and make the world a better place.
What is the typical life of a detainee’s case? First, let’s start with the family. They are often heartbroken, scared and confused as to what is happening. Many have their own fears about government authority and there is a trepidation about lawyers as well.
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Second, a client is often a person of integrity who made either a minor criminal infraction (the dreaded DUI) and has an immigration violation. Our job, like criminal defense attorneys, is to give our clients a fair chance under the law, help them navigate the system and be reunited with their families.
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Many clients are hardworking individuals who have significantly contributed to our society by owning their own businesses and being valued community members. Take the case of Jose Leon-Merino, who is 44-years-old and from Mexico. He came to the United States in 1992. He has three U.S.-born children.
Before being detained, he had a long history of being a talented cook and was the sole wage earner for the family, always paying his taxes. While he did have DUI convictions, he fully complied with all court-ordered rehabilitation. After being detained for several months, he was successful in getting permanent resident status on the basis of extraordinary hardship to one of his children. He is now reunited with his family in Oregon.
Not all cases have a happy ending. We are up against immigration judges who are given wide latitude to act like prosecutors and government attorneys who zealously pursue their cases.
We do not change the facts of a client’s case, we do not encourage them to lie or cheat. Immigration attorneys are well aware of the fraud that can easily attach to a case and cause a lifetime bar, so we are very cautious to make sure the client is truthful.
We also do not want to put our own bar license on the line by violating rules of professional conduct. What we do is make sure our client’s due-process rights are protected and they, like a criminal defendant, get a fair shake under the current system. Yet, criminal defendants have more rights than immigrants.
Here are the rights detained immigrants do not have — the right to counsel; always being eligible for a bond after being locked up for a long period of time; and the right to a judge who is not associated with the Department of Justice, to name a few differences.
What rights do detainees have? Few. But at least, for the lucky ones, there are immigration attorneys who passionately believe in justice and are willing to fight for what is morally right. If that is “dirty” — bring it on.