August 10, 2018
Today was largely a day of victory. I went to hear our staff attorney, Matt, argue his bond motion before Judge DeCardona (who, by they way, appears via video from Falls Church, Virginia).
There is no electronic filing in immigration court. They are starting to roll it out in bigger jurisdictions like Atlanta, but surprisingly, that technological leap forward hasn’t made it to Lumpkin yet. So, Matt diligently hand-delivered his motion (and the myriad supporting exhibits) to the court in advance of the hearing. This lack of e-filing is one of the many many practical issues of Stewart’s location: in order to file your pleadings, you must either file them in person, or send them via snail mail. Being able to easily hand deliver things is one of the very few benefits that inure to those of us (SIFI Lumpkin, and one other solo practitioner) who choose to keep an office in Lumpkin proper.
When the hearing started, despite having hand delivered our packet to the court, the attorney for the government claimed not to have received a copy. Thankfully, Matt immediately produced an extra copy. Claiming not to have received the respondent’s paperwork is a common practice, and one which could have easily derailed a less prepared attorney. You see, the immigration court at Stewart is attached to the detention center, behind the same formidable display of automated gates and rows upon rows of razor wire. Those attending or observing court are also subject to the same rules as the detention facility: nothing allowed other than paperwork related to the case. No cell phones. No laptops. So, if Matt had not brought an extra copy of his materials, this hearing could have been over as soon as it started. This categorical technological ban does not apply, however, to the lawyers for the government. Ms. Parker, the government attorney from the Office of Chief Counsel, had not produced a copy of our clients I-213 to the court or to Matt. This is an important document which essentially outlines everything the government knows about the client, including facts which will ostensibly support the argument that the client should be deported. When Judge DeCardona asked Ms. Parker whether she had a copy for Matt to review, she replied “I just emailed it, your Honor. The court [meaning the clerk in the courtroom] is going to print it for me.” Would that such a basic technological consideration were afforded equally to both sides.
After a surprisingly brief hearing, (most of which consisted of the judge asking our client, through an Acateco interpreter, why he had chosen to drive drunk, and whether he knew it was dangerous), we won! The win, in this case, was the judge granting our client a $10,000 bond. Ordinarily, $10,000 would be an unattainable amount of money for a man with several children who has been incarcerated. However, RAICES has used at least a portion of the gobsmacking amount of money it raised (the last figure I saw was upwards of $24 million) to set up a bond fund. Detainees can apply to have some or all of their bond paid out of the RAICES fund. We will be submitting this client’s application materials in the next few days.
This is, by all accounts, a big win for our client. Please stay tuned for a full explanation of all the reasons why its easier to fight your case when you’re not detained.
However, I have to include a brief story of defeat as a caveat to this SIFI victory: an attorney from Asian Americans Advancing Justice also had a win this morning, and secured withholding of removal for his Vietnamese client. When I ran into him in the afternoon, he had just come from telling his client that he would be released that day and that the whole legal team was going out for lunch. Within a matter of minutes, however, the lead attorney returned to the waiting room with bad news: his client’s ICE officer had just told the attorney that withholding of removal only meant that the client couldn’t be sent back to Vietnam. Therefore, ICE was going to keep the client in detention while they tried to get the client sent to Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia. The attorney speculated that this delay, which he was sure would ultimately be fruitless (all the proposed countries would reject the client for being an ethnic minority), would result in his client being detained for another week or more, despite today’s win.
You win some, you lose some.