April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Do We Really Understand the Plight of the Immigrant?

As an immigration lawyer, recently I have been asked, a lot: “Boy, President Trump must be really great for your business, right?” Actually, no. Without any changes in the law, all I have is an increase in nervous potential clients on the phone, and you can’t charge for “nobody knows what the law will be, so please stay in touch.” Also, even if you agree with crackdowns on illegal immigration, I think you’d agree that any lawyer should have sympathy enough for his/her clients that exulting at the profit of misery is at best unseemly, and at worst disgusting.

Confession: I feel bad for undocumented immigrants, even the ones who are not my clients. Imagine living in fear of an officer saying, “Papers, please.” Insert a sinister accent, if it helps.

Maybe you feel that the sin of coming to the US illegally is unforgivable and should be penalized. Even so, certainly you cannot argue that anyone in America (let’s say it happened to you) should face the terror of being accosted and jailed immediately on the street (or worse, having your door kicked in) and next thing you know you’re separated from your family, perhaps to a country where you don’t even speak the language, exposed to the whims of the criminal gangs that overrun that country because you came from America, so you must be rich. (How many housekeepers fit that description?)

On the other hand, maybe you say “Curse you, President Trump, for exposing immigrants like this! Things were much better before you came along!”

Umm, not exactly.

During President Obama’s presidency (#DeporterInChief), more immigrants were deported than in the previous hundred years. Not just criminals, except in the sense that they violated the law by sneaking into the US, frequently out of desperation. And often in an expedited manner, where the process is over almost before it started. Not always with a lawyer, either.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted in 1996 under President Clinton (“I feel your pain”) altered prior immigration laws, and significantly reduced immigrants’ rights. Nobody is claiming that laws should be tossed out, but a degree of humanity needs to be a factor in making decisions that may literally mean life and death to folks whose worst luck was to be born in the wrong country.

Not every immigrant is a criminal, terrorist or threat. Many just want to live in peace, and to work hard for their families. In an informal survey I came across, immigrants said they would trade all access to benefits in exchange for a work permit and the safety of not being deported if they otherwise stay within the law.

But we are where we are. The level of fear among immigrants is such that I have clients afraid to go to a concert, or a mall, for fear of being stopped and questioned. Of course it couldn’t happen to you, since you’re a citizen. Or can it? What if you don’t have identification with you and you spend a night in jail? Is that acceptable? What if there’s an error and you get deported (it has happened to US citizens), and you need things straightened out before you are permitted to leave Ecuador or Guatemala (see the crime rates there) and return home?

Should you have to feel such terror? Of course not. So why should “they”?

So what’s the point of this article? To make you understand, to make you feel. Politics is not bloodless. Policies matter. Take a second look at an issue that you “know” for sure you have considered and about which your mind is already made up.

By Mordechai “Mordy” Book

 Mordechai “Mordy” Book, Esq. is an attorney based in Monsey, New York and Lyndhurst, New Jersey. His practice focuses both on immigration law and business/corporate matters. He may be reached at [email protected] or 845-352-0700.

 

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