suffocating pragmatism becomes insensitivity… and then, you don’t belong here

For the past several months I’ve been acting as immigration advisor to my colleagues in criminal practice.  Though I’ve only been here a short time, somehow I’ve started to get cold calls from correctional facilities and loved ones of persons being placed in removal proceedings.  While flattering, I can’t ethically create attorney client relationships all willy nilly, so I send the callers off  to someone who really can assist and possibly represent their loved one. 

A few days ago, a caller asked for assistance for a family member with multiple felony convictions, one of which turned out to be an aggravated felony under the INA. Anyone convicted of an aggravated felony functionally has no ground of defense against their removal (unless the Attorney General is willing to cancel removal). I sent the family member to agencies that could work on modifying that conviction and put them in contact with the few immigration attorneys in this area experienced with assisting clients with criminal convictions. I bid the family member well wishes and urged them to keep their head up since their loved one has “some hope”.

SOME HOPE? is that all he has? SOME HOPE? – the family member responded…

and that triggered my supposed ‘pragmatism’.  All I kept on thinking was – how could anyone in their right mind THINK they could plead guilty to stealing cars and robbing folk multiple times, serve jail sentences and still stay in the U.S. on a greencard? What is running through this family member’s mind? I now know these sentiments to be soft-core-xenophobic-insensitivity (which I have apparently been calling “pragmatism” for some weeks now). I composed myself and warned the family member that whoever represents their loved one will have to prepare for the worst.

The pragmatism I’ve nursed to guide me in the criminal justice system as a defense attorney started to sour the moment I encountered the first person I actually have ever wanted to sit in jail.  And to think, for so long, I believed myself to be a prison abolitionist like my idol Angela Davis and my bro Marc. But this person… I wanted them under the jail to at least be concerned with the well being of the children they were convicted of abusing.

Despite having navigated the immigration systems as an alien in other countries, and being born of an immigrant mother here in the U.S., I found myself becoming insensitive to certain cases. Like the person I mentioned above convicted of abusing their children and THEN stealing their identities to commit fraud, the person convicted of transporting liquid heroin from Canada… the parent who stabs their child with a steak knife… the former gang member convicted of armed robbery who all then travel abroad and wonder why they can’t reenter the United States after these convictions.  I’ve had to affirmatively resist the inclination to ask “what the hell were you thinking traveling with THAT criminal record???”

I have never been this person. what happened? how did I get to this space?

In criminal practice, I hugged and wept with clients convicted of homicide, rape, gun trafficking. I would get photos of their children, watch their youtube channels as they try to become Twitter Famous rappers… I would get updated on life after incarceration and life while incarcerated via letters and or phone calls. But here, somehow in immigration practice, I became a soft-core xenophobe. shudders.

Why am I holding these clients to some other standard?

While I wait for the “why”, I am pressing myself to return to my true self – eager to be sensitive to all issues that plague immigrants, the poor, the disadvantaged. If I don’t guard my heart, I can become a fatalist. If I don’t guard my mind, my pragmatism will sour, suffocating me into a corner of insensitivity… at which point, I would no longer belong here. That corner of insensitivity is the last place I want to be.  I’ve been blessed with the career of my dreams, and I don’t ever want to be forced out of this love affair by insensitivity, tragic nativism and insensitivity.