Posts Tagged ‘Animal Farm’

Whittling Away Immigrant Rights

January 15, 2009

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ring truer than ever on the heels of Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s latest ruling on January 8, 2009. Mukasey issued a ruling concerning appeals to the deportation of three different immigrants. The immigrants appealed on the basis of attorney error, but Mukasey stated that, “neither the Constitution nor any statutory or regulatory provision entitles an alien to a do-over if his initial removal proceeding is prejudiced by the mistakes of a privately retained lawyer.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)


A case five years ago, In re Assad, established precedence which prompted the Board of Immigration Appeals to routinely allow immigrant appeals on basis of attorney error. However, the Attorney General’s ruling is now prevailing law, barring an appeal.


While some support this eleventh-hour ruling by the departing Attorney General, others argue that immigrants are often preyed upon by extortionary attorneys or have to settle for less-than-competent counsel. The 9th Circuit said in one opinion last year that often “vulnerable immigrants are preyed upon by unlicensed notarios and unscrupulous appearance attorneys who extract heavy fees in exchange for false promises and shoddy, ineffective representation.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times) I can personally attest to this, having worked on asylum cases where families in removal proceedings were charged $10,000 and then asked for another $12,000, all with nothing to show for it but lost time inside a drab detention center.

Extreme lawyerly error, as determined by the court, is now the only way immigrants can appeal cases based on the quality of their defense. Mukasey negated the most common method of appeals in immigration cases by explaining, “There is no constitutional right to counsel, and thus no constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, in civil cases.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)

By the time Obama gets established in office, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants could potentially have been deported due to Mukasey’s new ruling. Mukasey and other supporters of this ruling argue that this appeal was too often a delay tactic by immigrants attempting to stay their removal proceedings. What is certain is this – immigrants’ Constitutional rights shrunk five sizes last Thursday. And when anyone’s civil liberties are threatened, all our rights are. As another of Dr. King’s statements elucidates, we are “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” For extralegal immigrants, 12 million and growing, this latest legal decision strips Constitutional rights the rest of America takes for granted. Mukasey’s latest ruling creates a dehumanizing distinction between Americans with rights and those without. Until this ruling is appealed, as we should all hope, we must be vigilant that the most vulnerable Americans aren’t exploited under the auspices of new controlling law.

Throughout the chilling allegory of Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Constitution or Commandments by which the animals live slowly change.  Although they begin their society with the fundamental premise that “All Animals are Equal,” it is soon changed to “All Animals are Equal, but some are More Equal than Others.”  This is the essence of Mukasey’s new ruling, that immigrants, like detainees at Guantanamo Bay, have little to no rights because they are not recognized as citizens of these United States.  What held true in Animal Farm will surely hold out here; if we allow some people to be more equal than others, we are setting up a system which necessarily exploits the most vulnerable. We must take heed not to read into the Declaration of Independence the word “citizen” where it has always said, “All men are created equal.”


Who will speak for the students?

March 30, 2008

    Today one of my students celebrated his 17th birthday. This bright senior also managed to win first place in a South Texas Informative Speech District competition. As his coach, I will be traveling with him to San Antonio for the UIL Regional Meet. The event is sure to be packed with fawning friends and proud parents, as well as hundreds of other young high-schoolers dreaming of making it to States. However, this lad, for whom I wrote a recommendation to Rice University, will not even have his mother there. The only two roads north out of the Valley, Highways 77 and 83, both have checkpoints which temporary residents are not permitted to pass. While his mother can legally reside in border towns like Brownsville, she cannot witness her son’s beautiful speeches nor visit her talented hijo when he attends Texas Tech this fall.

    This young man is not alone. In my high school of 2,200 students in a city of more than 12,000 high-schoolers and almost 49,000 students, countless kids deal with this and more every day. Some students live with aunts and grandmothers during the week, separated from their biological mothers in Matamoros across an International Bridge. Others live lives of solitude in sparse apartments, forbidden by their parents to leave for fear of getting deported. Some students drive from Mexico every single day, others cook and clean for a family they traveled a thousand miles from the heart of Mexico to serve as a maid. Thousands and thousands of students shift codes every day as they make the long journey from their father’s espanol and their English classes, such as mine.

    Countless of my students benefit from positive immigrant legislation every single day. A trip to my classroom would show you boys and girls coming of age in Texas, the same boys and girls who are finding themselves in Pennsylvania and the same boys and girls learning their potential in Minnesota. Extralegal residents, endowed with the same souls and minds and dreams as children everywhere, are allowed to sit in these desks and listen to my lectures because of a landmark court case. In the 1982 Supreme Court Doe v. Plyler case in regards to “Alien Children Education Litigation,” Peter Schey helped prove it was a violation of the 14th Amendment to deny public education to undocumented children. Along with hundreds of students who have stepped foot in my classroom of F114, 100,000 children are annually admitted to Texas schools because of Peter Schey’s successful advocacy.

    Peter Schey is one of the preeminent lawyers in our nation today, and he is currently tackling further injustice toward immigrants and border residents by readying a class-action lawsuit against the government’s attempts to enact the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in Texas. He is defending UT-Brownsville Professor Eloisa Tamez as she opposes the government’s desire to survey and sequester part, if not all, of her Spanish land-grant acreage. Obviously, the border wall lawsuit is about more than just an unsightly barrier. At its heart, it would have the same crushing effects as denying 100,000 children an education. Schey realizes that building a wall between the United States and Mexico is an affront to every legal immigrant in this nation. Schey recognizes that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is a distraction from the real negotiations about immigration which must take place if my students are going to have the opportunity to attend university. Peter Schey is filing lawsuits because the DREAM Act is a law which helps people achieve their dreams, while the Secure Fence Act’s sole purpose is deterrence. Schey understands that the border region and its unique way of life are under fire, that the Secure Fence Act would affect la frontera exponentially more than any other region of the country, that asking border residents to make this staggering sacrifice is akin to Napoleon asking the chickens to sacrifice their baby chicks for the good of the cause in Animal Farm, a sacrifice none others are asked to make.

    My students are watching this nation. They are inspecting us adults to see if we really are trying to make the world a better place for all and not just a few. Students like those on Speech Club are contemplating careers in politics and law, so they are encouraged to see that famous attorneys like Peter Schey are willing to stake their reputation on cases which affect their lives. My students are watching me, waiting to see if I am willing to advocate for them in meaningful ways, waiting to see that I care enough to speak out. We must not disappoint these dreamers nor frustrate our future leaders; we must not leave a wall as a legacy for them to tear down.

Border Wall California by Jay Johnson-Castro


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