Looking Back at 2011, and Looking Forward to New Year
The past year was the most exciting, challenging and successful year in our firm’s history.
The stories of two of our clients, Emily Ruiz and Julia Caceres, make headlines around the world and put a human face on the issue of illegal immigration. In a year dominated by hateful legislation and rhetoric, we were able to portray the cruel and inhumane consequences of the administration’s immigration policies.
I have no doubt that our clients’ stories, along with the stories of millions of other law-abiding and hard-working immigrants, put pressure on the Obama administration to enact a new policy, encapsulated in a memo signed by ICE director John Morton. The “Morton Memo” — if properly implemented — will help keep mixed-status families together and end the horrific unintended consequences of the administration’s deportation policies. Last year was another record year for deportations — nearly 400,000 in total, the vast majority of whom were Latinos from Central and South America.
The story of Julia Caceres, a young mother from Ecuadorwith two U.S. citizen children, put a spotlight on everything that is wrong with U.S. immigration policy. Julia was caught up in a workplace raid in 1996, and was ordered deported. She was pregnant at the time and did not leave. Her long-time companion held a Green Card, her father was a U.S. Citizen, and she had four USC brothers and sisters. That didn’t mean anything to the five ICE agents who apprehended Julia in an early-morning raid on her house in Corona, Queens in October, months after the administration’s supposed new priority shift to hard-core criminals.
Julia’s previously attorney had pleaded with ICE to stop the deportation, and provided voluminous proof of the hardship that her forced removal would cause the family. ICE simply issued a boilerplate denial and put her on flight to Ecuador. Once aboard, someone noticed that she had been bleeding and was pregnant. She was pulled off the flight, given medical attention. Thanks to Univision and assistance of several key legislators, Julia was released and reunited with her family after a joyful reunion at a detention center in New Jersey.
Emily Ruiz was a 4-yer-old U.S. Citizen, but her two parents were illegal immigrants from Guatemala. When she was returning home last March with her grandfather, the plane was diverted to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.because of stormy weather conditions. It was there that an officer from Customs and Border Protection determined that Emily’s grandfather had previously violated his immigration status. The grandfather was ordered to return toGuatemala. The officer then got in touch with Emily’s father and came to the conclusion that he was here illegally. So he gave Emily’s dad a stark choice: The girl would either return with her grandfather to Guatemala or be placed in a juvenile facility in Virginia. No other choice.
So a U.S. citizen was, in effect, “deported” just because of her parents’ status. It was an outrage. Emily’s father went to Univision to plead for assistance to get her daughter back, and I was asked to provide legal commentary. I was shocked that the government would mistreat an innocent young girl that way, and so took on their case pro-bono. Two other members of our firm went with me toGuatemalalast March to bring Emily back. The story went around the world, and spotlighted the plight of mixed-status families and so-called “anchor babies.” I am very proud that her story did not turn into a media circus and we were able to protect the family’s privacy. Not one outside reporter pestered Emily or came close to taking her picture.
(A big tip of the cap to America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant lobbying organization that helped spread the story of Emily’s plight and organized news conferences in Guatemala City–my first press conference in Spanish! — and New York City.)
Although the “Morton Memo” emphasizes prosecuturial discretion and lenient treatment toward law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, not everyone has gotten the message. Indeed, the pace of deportations remains at a record level. The administration’s so-called “Secure Communities” policy has been very successful at netting unauthorized immigrants, though a small fraction of those are violent criminals or otherwise threats to public safety.
In addition to the two cases cited previously, we have been very successful in obtaining the release of many immigrants held in ICE custody. Their deportations would have resulted in untold suffering by their family members, many of whom are U.S.Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents.
Last year was also a watershed moment in our firm’s growth.
I am honored to work with a terrific, dedicated and loyal staff that makes my job so enjoyable and rewarding. We are honored that our clients place so much trust in our firm, and we will do whatever is necessary to help them acheieve their goals.
Despite some unexpected personnel changes, we ended the year with our best team ever, and expanded to a third location, in Hempstead. Our new satellite office is located in the Hempstead Law Center, owned by my long-time friends, Rafael Penate and Gary Miller.
Our two new associates, Marta Villacortaand Lia Suntoso, have been great assets to our firm. Marta, who was born in El Salvador, came to theUnited States at an early age with her immigrant parents and settled in Central Islip. While in high school and college, Marta interned with our firm for three summers. She then went on to graduate from Boston College Law Schooland served as clerk to federal judges in Georgia and California before joining our firm.
Lia Suntoso is nationally recognized expert in U.S. immigration law. Born in Indonesia, she graduated from law school in theUnited States and has written and edited many articles and treatises on immigration law for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Her enthusiasm and passionate dedication to immigrant rights meshes perfectly with our firm’s advocacy efforts and zealous representation of clients.
I am very proud of our staff for upholding the firm’s zealous and passionate representation of immigrants. Without them, we would never have been so successful and earned the trust and confidence of the immigrant community.
Last but not least, we have a new website! We are beginning the new year with a highly interactive website that will help further our firm’s mission of providing the best legal representation at reasonable fees. I have always been a believer in high-tech as a means to improve productivity exponentially. Our new website is part of our reliance on cutting-edge technology to better communicate with the pubic and our clients. We are also involved in the new social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
This past year was amazing, and we look forward to an even more successful and rewarding year in 2012.