Robert Coughlon 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Immigration: Helping the Not-So-Innocent When I became an immigration attorney many years ago, I had a vague idea I wanted to help people. Indeed, being an immigration attorney affords me an opportunity to advocate for my clients. However, immigration law has also shown me that we are not just a country of laws, but also a country of grace. The wristwatch I wear is not particularly fancy or expensive, although I do get a few compliments on it. But the real reason I enjoy wearing it is because it was given to me by my clients after they were granted their permanent residency by an immigration judge. After the case was over, these clients, a husband and wife, came to my office with their kids and told me they wanted me to think of them when I wear it. In fact, I do think of them almost every day. It is a constant reminder to me of their family and the immigration court process I have the privilege of participating in. They came to the United States illegally as teenagers. They now have children of their own, who were born in the United States and have never lived in their parents’ home country. Their case reminds me that the United States is a country of due process and of mercy and compassion. Although they broke the law by entering the United States illegally, due process entitled them to a hearing with an immigration judge. The judge, in his wisdom, decided that it would be an exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to this couple’s children for them to be deported. Another judge once commented that this type of benefit doesn’t reward people for doing immigration “their way.” Rather, it is the United States having mercy on a family and allowing the parents to remain here with their children because the hardship to the children merits an exercise of discretion. The second type of immigration case which is close to my heart is when a lawful permanent resident has committed a crime which makes him or her deportable, but is eligible to ask the immigration judge for a pardon, referred to as a Cancellation of Removal for Lawful Permanent Residents. Permanent residents can be deported for a variety of crimes, such as drug possession, firearms offenses, domestic violence, or other crimes involving moral turpitude. Frequently, a person has been a lawful permanent resident for many years, sometimes almost his entire life. In these cases, the person has caused harm not only to our community, but also to himself and his family. The question, then, for the immigration judge to decide is whether it’s in the best interests of the United States for this person to remain in the United States. However, it’s not just a question of how long the person has lived here and what sort of family equities are involved. It often comes down to what kind of insight the person has into his transgressions and the harm he has caused. This sometimes results in cathartic hearings where the client has to articulate to the judge and the client’s own family what he has learned about himself. This requires more than the client merely claiming to be rehabilitated. It requires him to show how he has internalized the lessons he has learned. It goes beyond saying, “I’m sorry, please don’t send me back to Mexico.” It is an opportunity for him to say why he’s sorry, and what he has learned about the harmful effects of his behavior. Remarkably, in many cases the client has a deep understanding of how domestic violence or drug addiction has broken down his family and left long-lasting scars. In these cases, the judge decides whether or not it is in our society’s best interest for the person to remain in the United States as a lawful permanent resident. This sort of law practice is not what I imagined years ago, thinking that I would help people who are wholly innocent. In fact, some might look cynically at legal assistance which results in an immigration benefit for “law breakers.” However, I prefer to see it as the embodiment of forgiveness.
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