Whenever I think of the day I went to court, my blood boils. Above the judges bench is a seal that reads DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur”. I can remember shaking my head and thinking, “Justice for whom?” Looking around the immigration court, it was clear that there was no justice here and if there was, it didn’t look like it gave a flying flip about us.
The very first group the judge decided to deal with was the group of people who had lawyers. An older Hispanic couple with US citizen children had opted come to their first court hearing with a lawyer whom they ‘d imported from another state. Florida, I think. I mean, I have never seen a more incompetent lawyer in my entire life! First of all, this dude came to court late and when he walked into court, he began looking for his clients, whom he clearly had not met or talked to before. How this clown passed the bar and was allowed to practice immigration law is beyond me.
When the judge came into the courtroom and proceeded to find out what their case was about, this lawyer began to stammer, stutter and endlessly flip through his clients’ deportation papers. My guess is that he was looking for his paycheck.
It turns out that this incompetent lawyer wasn’t even the one the couple had hired! The lawyer they hired didn’t feel the need to come and defend his clients because I guess he had better things to do. Instead, he sent his inept sidekick who fumbled his way through his clients’ case. Fortunately for them, the Judge had pity on them and gave them another court date.
My heart broke for a gentleman from Africa. He had come to court that day with his lawyer, who barely put up a fight. In less than five minutes, the judge found the African deportable. He was asked to leave the country within four months and show proof that he had purchased a ticket in two months. Failure to leave the country in 4 months, he was told, would result in him being barred from America for good. I mean, this guy looked like he had been hit by a ton of bricks when the judge made that ruling. He looked devastated, and all of us there knew exactly what that ruling meant for the poor guy. It meant that he had less than 4 months to sell all of his belongings, bid farewell to his friends and family. He would also need to buy a one-way airline ticket and mentally and psychologically prepare himself to go back to a country that he probably had not been to in a long, long time. In less than 5 minutes his life was turned upside down and inside out.
Now, the kicker is that while the judge was giving this devastating ruling, the ICE lawyer (whose job was to make sure none of us stood a fighting chance) was on her laptop checking her personal email.
Please allow me to get on my soapbox for a minute:
Every time you a read bunch of statistics or see a see photo of an “illegal” alien being deported, you’ve got to understand that we are not the only ones going through this hell. We have children, spouses, parents and friends who are being affected by what’s happening to us. Yes, we put ourselves in this situation and yes, we broke the law. The law we broke is an unjust and unfair law.
Contrary to popular belief, most of us aren’t parasites. Most of us aren’t criminals. We are hard-working, family-oriented, tax-paying individuals who just want to provide for our families and live the American Dream. We are the life blood of this country. We work at McDonalds, clean bathrooms, mow lawns and build homes. We cook in restaurants; we nurse and save the lives of the sick and elderly. We pretty much do many of the jobs that Americans won’t do.
How does America repay us for our back-breaking service to its citizens? It does so by treating many of us like slaves and then deporting us. What gets to me is that the same people who always yack about “family values” are the exact same people who are quick to say that “all illegal aliens must be deported.” They conveniently choose to ignore one tragic reality: by deporting the “illegals” they are breaking and tearing families apart. Then again, maybe what they mean by “family values” is that some families are more valuable than others.
Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Where was I? I was talking about my first immigration court hearing. The second group that the judge dealt with on that day were those who had come to court for their first hearing but didn’t have a lawyer. The judge seemed to be more patient with them, almost fatherly. He addressed everyone in English, while a Spanish interpreter translated his words for the myriad Hispanics present.
Each of these aliens was given the pleasure of appearing before the judge. Each asked for more time to find a lawyer.The magnanimous judge gave everyone 6 months to find a lawyer. Looking back, I feel that the second group was the wiser of the bunch. The day ICE catches up with you, your clock starts counting down to your exit of the country. The best strategy to use is to buy time. Trust me, you need all the time you can get to plan and prepare for the uncertain future.
For that reason, I believe that it is best to go to court without a lawyer for your first hearing and tell the judge that you need more time to find a lawyer. Do this even if you already have a lawyer. Going to your first hearing with a lawyer would leave him or her no choice but to defend you. If you don’t have American citizen kids or relatives (citizens or permanent residents) who directly depend on you, then you will be more than likely found deportable. If, on the other hand, you are tired of it all and just want to leave, then by all means go to your first hearing with a lawyer.
The deportation process can be very scary and it’s so easy to lose hope. Please don’t lose hope; hang in there. Surround yourself with positive and helpful people. Whenever you can, try and participate in activities that will make you focus on others and not yourself. One way I have dealt with my deportation nightmare is by helping others. In turn, this has helped me deal with all the baggage and emotions that come with being in deportation proceedings.