Sitting in federal immigration court here in Dallas provides insights into the current national struggle for reform, as well as the heritage we enjoy as a people. While often enraged by the manner in which our current policy is working against so many great people who desire to be part of our national life, I am moved by the personal stories that unfold in the courtroom.
Monica's hearing Monday was set last on the docket, so we heard every other case before lunch. I took some notes as I listened.
One man from Mexico received "voluntary deportation," which means he has to be out of the country in 120 days, the maximum delay the court can award. In determining the length of his "grace period," the judge asked him how much time he needed to leave. His answer revealed that he would need to sell his home before leaving. The man, in his mid-thirties, was obviously a very hard working provider for his family, who were also present in the courtroom.
Obviously, I don't know his story. But if first impressions mean anything, he impressed me as the sort of gentleman I'd love to have for a next door neighbor. He paid property taxes. He worked hard. He was an asset to our community. But he must leave.
Then, there was the woman from El Salvador who had applied for asylum under the immigration statute. She had no attorney because she could not afford the fee required by the lawyers she consulted and Catholic Charities was receiving no new clients. With her was her precious baby girl. She appeared to be about 9 or 10 months old. The judge seemed perplexed by her situation and didn't know what do advise regarding counsel.
Liz, Monica's attorney, signaled the judge and he asked the woman to step outside for a moment with Liz to discuss her case. It seemed a very unusual and compassionate move by the judge. I joined them outside the courtroom to offer our support. Liz calmly laid out a strategy for helping her out. Liz, a Catholic Charities probono attorney, will represent her and Central Dallas Ministries will be there as well going forward. When we returned to the court and her case continued it was very clear that the judge appreciated Liz's responsiveness.
When things were complete, the judge invited the woman to bring her baby up to the bench. The judge took the child in his arms and played with her and encouraged the mother. I later learned that the judge is expecting his first grandchild, a little boy.
Returning to the courtroom, we heard the end of the case of an 11-year-old boy. He had evidently been picked up at the border when fleeing from El Salvador and placed under the supervision of the court. The judge reviewed his report card and directed him to return to court in early summer. Who knows what his status will be at that time.
Another man appeared before the court without representation. He could not afford an attorney. He accepted voluntary deportation in four months. As his hearing concluded, it was clear that his main concern was to recover the bond his father-in-law had put up when he was detained. He seemed to care more about that obligation than his own future. Listening to him was very sad to me.
During the proceedings, others were deported or received voluntary departure status. Each story was compelling.
One aspect shared in common by all who were in the court to appear before the bar of the U. S. Department of Justice seemed to be economics. Almost all were poor or very poor. Many had no representation before the court. All were working people.
I don't think anyone, no matter what their ideology or politics, could sit in this courtroom and not be touched by the dilemmas facing good people who are here for many different reasons, all of which tie back to the essence of the dream our nation holds up to the whole world.
They want to be here.
Who can blame them?