Today, I read an article written by a young lawyer who represented a middle-aged man detained for two decades. At the time of the trial, the man had been locked up in an immigration detention center for 10 months. Despite living in the U.S. since he was two weeks old, he faced deportation. For eight months, this attorney fought for her client’s release; she argued that the man was not deportable and that the immigration case against him should be terminated.
Although the attorney felt the case was winnable, repeated immigration system delays caused her client to give up. The final hearing had already been rescheduled twice and was about to be delayed again. He did not want to remain locked up during a process that would include years of hearings and appeals. He longed for freedom, even if it must be in a country that he has never known.
After this experience, the young lawyer contemplated her role as his attorney and what it means to be pro-client versus client-centric. When someone has been victimized, it is one thing to advocate from one’s own perspective, but another to advocate from the victim’s perspective. It is much easier to think about “fighting” when you are not the one locked up, facing regular searches, harassment, mistreatment, and other harsh conditions.
She also reflected on our broken system, something I have done, quite often, over the past few years. Our immigration detention system locks up hundreds of thousands of immigrants unnecessarily each year. Detention lasts as long as it takes for a judge to rule. Why must systemic delay result in incarceration for months, even years?
Constitutional protections should extend to all people in the United States — citizens and immigrants alike. While the immigrants at issue are classified as "illegal," most have led exemplary lives, held jobs, contributed to the community and the economy, paid taxes, and lived, for all intents and purposes, as American citizens. They became an essential part of our society, and we benefited from the labor work they do.
America’s ‘greatness’ will not be achieved by deporting millions of people who are otherwise abiding by our laws. We must continue as a society to fight against such injustice.