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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Perspective from a State Department officer

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

In my last blog post, “Trump’s deliberate precipitation of an immigration crisis,” I made the case that the “extreme vetting” called for in President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017, banning immigrants from seven countries, was already in place.  I based this on my experience as an immigration attorney working with visa applicants.

Now, we have the perspective of Natasha Hall, a former Department of Homeland Security immigration officer, providing much more detail about what refugees must go through in order to be let in through our “golden door.”  Please give it a read.

For those who think that this Executive Order is the right move, think about if you were one of these refugees, what should you expect from America?  Think about having lost your home, your livelihood, maybe your family members, all your belongings, and your sense of security.  Think about not being able to go to school or to learn as a child.  Think about your entire childhood spent in crowded, desperate, dangerous refugee camps.  Think about the violence you have witnessed and experienced.  Think about not having enough food to eat, or clean clothes to wear, or clean water to drink or wash with.  Think about needing the kindness of strangers to survive, and knowing that so many times such kindness is not forthcoming.

I understand the justification given for this Executive Order, that we may inadvertently admit a terrorist posing as a refugee, but this is not the way to address that fear, for so many reasons.  In fact, many have argued, and I concur, that this order makes things worse.

If you are ever in need yourself, I would hope that others would hold out a helping hand to you, rather than remember this Executive Order and turn away as we now are in danger of doing to so many.  This order makes it this much harder to be an American in the world.  We reap what we sow.

Trump’s deliberate precipitation of an immigration crisis

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Since President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, his actions have turned U.S. immigration into a nightmare for countless numbers of lawful immigrants and visa holders and arriving refugees, and even for naturalized U.S. citizens from certain countries targeted by President Trump.  This does not even take into account those currently being processed for visa applications.

He issued three Executive Orders directly addressing immigration.  He did so without consulting the departments and agencies tasked with carrying out his orders.  CNN reported that “A Border Patrol agent, confronted with arriving refugees, referred questions only to the President himself, according to court filings.”  It reads like a line from a future movie.  The three Executive Orders were first issued on January 25, 2017.  The Executive Order addressing the admission of refugees and other non-U.S. citizens from “countries of particular concern” with regard to terrorism was re-issued on January 27, 2017, with a revised title.  I haven’t even had time to read  the two versions side-by-side to see what if anything has changed between the first and the second version.  This detail is telling in that it clearly shows that this administration cares little for getting things right in its rush to roll out its version of government.

This Executive Order, originally titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attack by Foreign Nationals” in its January 25, 2017, version, is now titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” in its January 27, 2017, version.

Like President Trump’s inaugural speech, this Executive Order presumes a nation under imminent attack by sinister forces that must be immediately repelled, at all costs.  This “emergency” mindset attempts to steamroll us to blindly surrender our rights and the rule of law in return for a false sense of security that the Trump administration has shown no ability to deliver.  This Executive Order halts the admission of all foreign nationals from certain countries, and then we had to hunt down which countries the President meant, because it was not provided with the Executive Order, not even as a handy addendum.  By “all foreign nationals,” this Executive Order included lawful permanent residents, as it only specifically exempted certain diplomatic visa holders.  So, if you happened to be a lawful permanent resident on, say, vacation outside of the United States when this came down initially it appeared that you too would be banned from returning to the United States for a period of at least 90 days.  The new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has taken it upon himself to except this category of foreign national, but until that point the Executive Order itself did not.  Can you imagine the havoc this would have wreaked on families and businesses when their lawful permanent resident family members and employees were stuck without warning out of the country for a period of at least three months?

From an immigration attorney’s perspective, let me tell you that the directives of “extreme vetting” in this Executive Order are either in place already, in terms of background checks and confirming that the applicant actually has the proper basis for immigration or admission to the United States, or are so extreme as to be unlawful or impossible to implement and still keep our system of immigration operative.  I have had clients denied visas who from my perspective clearly merited them.  I have had an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Special Forces and who was cleared for that work and had a letter of support from every officer with whom he worked denied a visa, without explanation as to why for over a year and then ultimately denied on a BS reason.  Believe me, the “extreme vetting” already exists and it is a particular nightmare for visa applicants.  It is known by the banal name of “administrative processing.”  Once a visa case is stuck in “administrative processing” the chances of getting an approval or even a cogent reason for a denial shrink to almost nothing.

It is hard to even know how to begin to point out all the things that are wrong with this Executive Order.

It discriminates based on national origin, with no showing of how such discrimination is necessary to serve a compelling governmental interest, pursuant to the strict scrutiny standard of review.  Such national origin discrimination has been banned in our Immigration and Nationality Act since 1965.  There are arguments that the president has the authority to ban foreign nationals on an as-needed basis.  We are about to find out how extensive that power reaches.  Trump is like a two-year-old child here, testing how far he can push presidential authority before we push back.  What is missing, though, is how this Executive Order promotes the interests of our nation as a whole.  Where are the considered arguments for these extreme actions, the effort to persuade the nation that such actions are needed?  Instead, all we have is a a wink and a nod, asking us to, “Trust me!  I alone can and will protect you.”  Well, in a democracy we need to understand why actions are taken, and to judge for ourselves the justification for those actions, not a meaningless reassurance that everything will be fine.  We are not children to be ignored while the “adults” sink our ship.  (And another thing, under this worldview what happens if Trump becomes incapacitated?  If only he and he alone can save us then this must mean that we are all doomed without his most excellent leadership.  He is after all, in his own opinion, irreplaceable.  Next on the agenda will be a life-term presidency.  It’s the only way for us to be safe.)

The Executive Order also bars the admission of Syrian refugees who have been already been subject to the best vetting processes that our Department of State could devise.  By directing that “extreme vetting” be employed, Trump’s Executive Order implies that the vetting conducted by our Department of State personnel was unsatisfactory, without any proof.  Do you really think that any State Department officer involved in vetting refugee applications would really cut any corners or fail to follow up on any indication of fraud or criminal or terrorist involvement?  What have State Department officers been doing all this time in vetting refugees, if not performing “extreme vetting”?  What State Department officer wants to be the one who let through a Trojan horse refugee?  According to a Time magazine article published in November 2015, it takes an average of 18 to 24 months for a Syrian refugee applicant to be approved for asylum in the United States, after being referred by the United Nations.  That is up to two years of life in limbo waiting for sanctuary, in addition to the time you spent escaping from an unlivable situation.

As a nation that works in cooperation with other nations to promote peace and prosperity globally, we are subject to human rights laws and under these laws we have a responsibility to take in refugees, the most vulnerable immigrants who have lost their homes and many other valuable things on their journey to seek a safe place to re-start their lives.  To turn away refugees is to turn our back on the founding principles of America, that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and out of that foundation we have forged one of the most vibrant and diverse societies ever known.  Immigrants are disproportionately the most active entrepreneurs in America.  They create businesses and jobs and bring new thinking and new ideas to play.  As with any group, there are immigrants who are dangerous criminals who should be punished and deported, but the rate of criminality among immigrants, even unauthorized immigrants, is lower than that of the native-born American population.  If the goal is to reduce crime rates, we need to take a good look in the mirror before demonizing immigrants if we are serious about fighting crime.

It discriminates on the basis of religion, prioritizing Christian applicants over others.  Barring discrimination on the basis of religion is a founding tenet of America.  This Executive Order treats that tenet as disposable.  It is not, and our courts will be the proving ground for this.

On a more prosaic note, this Executive Order thrusts a mammoth amount of work on to the departments that handle immigration processes, piling the requirement of report upon report on top of an already full workload.  (Do not get me started on current immigration processing times).  Complying with these reporting requirements will derail the regular workload of these departments for an unknown amount of time.  And where is the money coming from for all this extra work?  Is Congress going to funnel our tax money to the compilation of these reports so that they get done by the unreasonable deadlines in the Executive Order?  Is this the best use of our taxes?  This is what President Trump chose to do as one of his first actions in office?

Let us not forget that President Trump has been busy in other ways, ways that have been roundly criticized by experienced and respected intelligence professionals.  But that is a different topic.

 

Australia is successfully competing for skilled immigrants

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Check out this Quartz article about how skilled immigrants are finding a friendlier welcome in countries like Australia and Canada, in part because of artificially low quotas for skilled workers (the H-1B category in particular) in the USA, and in part due to the hostility expressed to immigrants in general by our presidential candidates.

http://qz.com/638881/while-americans-feud-australia-is-stealing-away-immigrants-with-sought-after-skills/

 

Ask An Immigration Attorney How A U Visa Can Help You

Monday, January 20th, 2014

U visas are a little known benefit for many unauthorized immigrants. It provides a route to U.S. lawful permanent resident status if you happen to be the victim of certain violent crimes, including crimes of domestic violence. If you want to seek asylum in Philadelphia, consult an immigration attorney for specifics on these types of claims.liberty bell philadelphia immigration lawyer

U visas are technically, most of the time, not visas at all. It is a lawful nonimmigrant status usually granted to individuals already present in the United States, rather than granted abroad with the issuance of an actual visa. This status is NOT permanent resident status, a.k.a. the green card. But it does grant you permission to remain in Philadelphia, or elsewhere in the United States, lawfully with permission to work, for up to three years. At the end of that three years, assuming you have not done anything unlawful in the meantime, you can adjust your status to that of permanent resident. For a more detailed listing of U eligibility criteria, USCIS provides this information. An immigration attorney can also help with determining eligibility.

This U nonimmigrant status is only granted to up to 10,000 unauthorized immigrants per year. The 2014 quota was actually reached in December 2013, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), which is only about two and half months into the federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. This is because immigrant advocates are doing a better and better job of informing eligible immigrant victims of crime about this benefit and filing the application. Applications that do not make the cut-off in the year filed are held over until the quota re-opens in the next fiscal year. To ensure that your application process proceeds properly, you should work closely with an immigration attorney in Philadelphia.

The U nonimmigrant status was created to help immigrant victims of crime, especially victims of domestic violence, and to encourage such victims to come forth to report the crime and to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. In addition to the victim reporting and helping to prosecute the crime, a law enforcement agency must sign off on a formal certification of the victim’s helpfulness. Without this law enforcement certification, the U visa application cannot move forth. It is thus an indispensable condition of eligibility, and in some cases, the bulk of the work in applying for U status is finding a law enforcement agency willing to sign off on the certification.

Help from an immigration attorney is necessary because not all law enforcement agencies are aware of what U nonimmigrant status is, or the policy considerations behind it. The personnel at such agencies may be wary of signing off on a form that they are not familiar with, in case it might come back later to bite them. Or, in some cases, the leadership or personnel at these law enforcement agencies are anti-immigrant and simply do not want to help unauthorized immigrants, even those who are victims of crimes and are willing to come forth. In the first instance, it is important to provide background information on why the U nonimmigrant status was enacted and to show that signing off on the certification does not have negative repercussions for the law enforcement agency. In the second, if one’s powers of persuasion do not work in changing an anti-immigrant attitude, then it is time to think creatively and look around for another law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the crime.

A U visa is a valuable tool for victims of crime to use in obtaining a lawful status in the U.S. It creates a benefit from an awful situation where an immigrant was physically harmed or threatened with physical harm. If you know anyone who experienced this, or even certain relatives of U.S. citizen victims where it is the relative who seeks lawful immigration status, we can help evaluate whether a U visa application is viable. Contact an immigration attorney at Tran Law Associates in Philadelphia. Call us at (215) 690-1933 to discuss your specific situation.

Consult Your Immigration Attorney For Motions To Reopen/Reconsider

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The law is a codification of what is right and fair. It may not seem that way sometimes, but that is what it is and should be.Philadelphia Immigration Attorney City Hall Image - Tran Law Associates

Part of being a lawyer is keeping sight of this basic truth. As an immigration attorney, I deal with U.S. government agencies on a daily basis. Sometimes my interactions with agencies are adversarial, such as when Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to deport my client because of lack of government permission to be present in this country, and I am trying to point out exceptions in the law that allow my client to stay and to become a lawful resident (or to prove that my client is already a citizen and therefore not deportable). Other times my interactions are cordial, in that I am applying for a benefit that my client qualifies for, and my job is to know what the qualifications for the benefit are (all of them) and to clearly demonstrate that my client possesses these qualifications. The government agency’s staffers’ job is to verify that my client does indeed qualify for the benefit sought and, once verified, approve that application in a timely manner. The benefit, after all, is one that the United States Congress has pronounced is a desirable result, such as family reunification or providing foreign workers for U.S. businesses that cannot otherwise find qualified U.S. workers.

Not infrequently, applicants for immigration benefits (especially those not represented by an immigration attorney) make mistakes in their forms or fail to submit all necessary documents, despite being as diligent as possible in following the instructions provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) or other U.S. immigration agencies. Even experienced immigration attorneys will occasionally make mistakes, being only human. And, sometimes (or a lot of times, depending on who you talk to) USCIS makes mistakes, being only run by humans. That’s when an I-290B Motion to Reopen or Motion to Reconsider comes in.

The I-290B Motion to Reopen and/or Reconsider codifies what should be common-sense fairness. When an applicant believes that USCIS has made a mistake there must be some way to communicate this to USCIS and hold USCIS accountable for its mistakes.

This is what happened in one of my change of status cases, where my client entered the country on a B1/B2 tourist visa to visit with family and sightsee, and then decided she wanted to continue her education here. Rather than going home and applying for an F-1 student visa she opted, as permitted by law, to apply for a change of nonimmigrant status. As her immigration attorney, I helped her navigate this change of status. We researched schools for her in Philadelphia, and she chose one that fit her budget and career goals. She applied for attendance and was accepted by the school, paid her first semester’s tuition fees, and was issued an I-20 by the school. She had to prove she had the financial means to pay her tuition fees and cover her living costs here in the United States, and a good friend of the family generously agreed to be her financial sponsor.

My client’s situation was one that was explicitly contemplated and approved of by immigration law, and it was just a matter of proving the relevant factors: nonimmigrant intent upon admission; acceptance at a SEVIS-approved school and issuance of an I-20; and financial ability to pay for school and living costs. We submitted her application for change of status along with all needed documents. USCIS received her application but somehow lost most of the accompanying documentation. In fact, USCIS informed me that although it had received my cover letter, which listed all enclosed documents, the documents themselves were not received.

Now, let me pause for a moment to reflect. USCIS was telling me that I had submitted a cover letter with no enclosed documents. For an experienced immigration attorney, that’s ridiculous. No lawyer would send just a cover letter and not include the 80+ pages of documents that the letter references. I can understand forgetting a particular document among several documents, especially in a voluminous submission, but to just send a cover letter – what experienced and reputable attorney, or what applicant for that matter, would do that!?

In this particular case, USCIS misplaced voluminous document submissions three separate times. In the same case. Can you image how infuriating it was for me to receive the second and third notice that USCIS had not received documents that I took such care to deliver to it — especially after being told that the first submission had documents that went missing? I could prove that I mailed a substantial packet of documents to USCIS in the matter, and I did so, sending along copies of the prior submissions to prove timely and complete submission of required information.

I notified USCIS of the fact that the relevant facts had been delivered, and I delivered copies. The application was then still denied for failure to submit required evidence. I wrote a strongly worded letter basically telling USCIS you can’t deny this application for losing documents I already submitted to you! I also complained to my bar association and asked for liaison assistance. The case was reopened by Service motion and then again denied, again citing failure to submit documents I had by this time submitted twice. It was like the Service never read my letter in which I had so carefully proven that my client had met all her obligations, and again delivered the relevant evidence. I wrote another strongly worded letter, sent another full copy of all prior submissions (several hundred pages by now), which got no response. I also filed an I-290B Motion to Reopen and/or Reconsider, the formal protocol for complaints (which carries a hefty filing fee). When no response was forthcoming within 90 days, however, I sought assistance from the USCIS Ombudsman’s office, reciting the litany of lost documents and resubmissions. They saw the error and the Motion was ultimately granted, and fairness in the case was preserved, although it took one and a half years rather than the two to three months it normally does for an application like this.

The moral of this story: don’t forget that the law should result in what is right and fair. Oh, and be a pain in the ass if that’s what’s needed to get things done.

The approval was sweet, but what would really be the icing on the cake is if USCIS refunds our filing fee. I am not holding my breath.

Lawyers for detained immigrants

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Immigration law is a strange beast.  Immigration is usually civil law, with the penalty for violations ultimately being deportation, that is, not being permitted to stay in this country.  While certain immigration violations are classified as criminal offenses, the majority of immigration laws fall into the civil arena.

In the world of immigration enforcement, “detention” (a value-neutral way of saying “imprisonment”) of immigrants is all-too-common and devastating to the individuals detained and their families.  It is a deprivation of liberty, a penalty that we reserve for our most serious criminals, and yet it is used routinely for alleged immigration violations.  I’ve said it before on this forum, but it bears repeating:  Immigrant detainees are caught in a Catch-22 because these individuals are treated as criminals but not given the rights of the criminally accused.  We should either treat immigrants accused of violating immigration laws as being accused of civil violations, with civil penalties and only civil protections and rights, or treat these immigrants as criminal defendants, with the concomitant protections of the criminally accused.  Straddling the middle of these categories – given only civil protections but faced with criminal penalties – exacts a high toll in human suffering (for the immigrant and the immigrant’s family) and economic resources, as we lose the value of that person’s contribution to the labor market and spending in our economy, and imprisoning unauthorized immigrants costs us about $2 billion a year.

Immigrant advocates have long pointed out this inequity, and now a new pilot program in New York City, funded by City Council, aims to ameliorate at least one aspect of this problem.  The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project is a one-year program aimed at providing pro bono counsel to detained New Yorkers.  Immigrants in deportation proceedings are told by judges that they have the right to counsel, but only at no cost to the government.  For low-income immigrants in proceedings this is a hollow right.  It is meaningless when one cannot afford to pay for competent counsel, and finding a good lawyer from prison… Well, try it yourself and see how far you get.

Like all sectors of the population, immigrants include good apples and bad apples.  For immigrants found to be dangerous to the community imprisonment is appropriate.  But for those accused only of non-criminal violations of immigration law, incarceration often unnecessarily rips apart families, prevents a parent from being able to look after and provide for U.S. citizen children, removes a needed employee from work, and costs about $164 a day (that’s $59,860 a year) to house and feed that individual on the federal dime.  Think of this just in terms of the cost of foster care for children left without a parent to look after them ($36,000 a year in New York City), and you start to get an idea of the real costs of unnecessarily jailing those accused of civil immigration violations.  Having a good lawyer in this situation often makes all the difference, according to the 2011 New York Immigrant Representation Study, which found that the percentage of detained immigrants who win their immigration cases without representation is 3%.  Having a lawyer, and being free from detention, can increase the chances of success to 74%.

The estimated cost of providing competent counsel for a detained immigrant is $3,000.  If this is the cost of proving that an immigrant should not be detained while defending against a deportation action then it will save the federal government about $60,000 a year per immigrant, and save in the costs of families having to rely on public support systems because a vital breadwinner is incarcerated.

I will keep an eye out to see how this pilot program fares.  It is a step in the right direction and I wish it the best.

Same-sex marriage cases post-Windsor

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

You may not have heard, but an important change in immigration law happened on June 26, 2013.  On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. WindsorThe Windsor case came up as a tax matter.  But Windsor isn’t just about taxes, although over $300,000 in federal estate taxes was at stake.  It was about the legal definition of marriage.  It was about whether a same-sex marriage can be treated differently than marriage between two people of the opposite sex.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and in doing so struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).

This leaves the path clear for same-sex marriages to be (among many other things affected by federal law) the basis for immigration benefits, especially marriage-based immigrant visas and marriage-based adjustment of status applications.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has, in an admirably prompt fashion, already gone on record as now accepting I-130 petitions from same-sex couples.  You can check out the guidance here.

The main thing you need to know if you want to file a petition for immigration benefits based on a same-sex marriage is that the marriage must be legally valid.  This means that the marriage must have been performed in a jurisdiction that allowed same-sex marriage at the time of the event.  This is sometimes referred to as the “place of celebration” rule.  It should not matter if you no longer live in that jurisdiction and currently live with your spouse in a place that does not legally permit same-sex marriage.

A legally valid marriage must be documented, whether by a certificate of marriage issued by a county government as is usually the case in the United States, or whatever is accepted as legal documentation of marriage in the place where it occurred.  For marriages abroad, a good place to check what documentation is considered legally sufficient are the websites for local U.S. embassies and consulates.  There is usually information for U.S. citizens interested in marrying in that foreign country, including what documents should be issued once the marriage is done.

So, for all those who thought they could not file for immigration benefits for their same-sex partners, the law has changed for the better!  If you need more help, advice, or representation in filing your application, contact Tran Law Associates about how to get your case started.

Post Script to Consular Nonreviewability

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

A few months ago, I wrote about a K-1 fiancé visa case of mine that was impossible to move forward and where repeated requests for information and clarity went nowhere.  (See The pitfalls of the K-1 fiance visa: Consular nonreviewability.)

A recent episode of National Public Radio’s This American Life illustrates this same frustrating experience perfectly.  The show put up a web page providing the email correspondence between an Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. government and the U.S. immigration office handling his case.  In the end, the applicant was killed before his employment with the U.S. government was verified to the (impossible standard of) satisfaction of the agency.  You have to read it to believe it:  This American Life – Taking Names.

Expungements: What you need to know before you expunge.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

For most people who acquire a minor criminal record that conviction becomes both a professional and a personal thorn in their side.  On the career-side, having a criminal record can make landing a job more difficult or might prevent you from doing the work you want to do altogether, whether that’s lawful on the employer’s part or not.  On the personal side, you may feel ashamed that you have this record that shows that you broke the law, or were convicted of breaking the law, and having to explain it whenever it comes up.

After experiencing the ramifications of having a criminal conviction, most people want to eliminate this from their record if they can, which usually means requesting that the record be expunged.  Expungement means that the record is destroyed, and anyone looking up your name in the jurisdiction in which it the record was generated should come up empty-handed.  Once an expungement petition is granted, the court administrator (usually the clerk of courts) where the record was originally generated should notify any other agencies to which the criminal record was sent, requesting that this information be removed from those databases as well.  In reality, such requests may or may not be made by the original keeper of the records, and the other agencies that received the criminal record information may or may not update their files in a timely manner, so information about your conviction may still show up in other databases, such as the FBI database.

In terms of immigration, before you expunge your record you should know this:  USCIS and the federal immigration courts often require that you disclose whether you have ever been arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer, charged with a criminal offense, convicted, and what your sentence was if you were convicted.  They require this information regardless of whether the record has been expunged.  And they expect you to provide certified records of these events, or a statement from the relevant agency stating that no record is available.

This means that once you record has been expunged there is no way for the record-keeping agency to issue you a certified copy of that record.  And, not infrequently, when you then request a statement that the record is no longer available due to expungement, the agency may not comply with this request for various reasons, including not understanding the request, or due to a policy of declining to verify the prior existence of a record that has been expunged.

Then you are stuck.  You have admitted to immigration authorities (in the course of, for example, applying for citizenship or for cancellation of removal) to having a criminal record, as the law requires, and yet you cannot provide verification of what happened, also as required.  It is because of this conundrum that I often advise clients to delay having their criminal records expunged until after they become naturalized.  A “clean” criminal record procured through the expungement process can be a headache in immigration proceedings because of the requirement to disclose ALL, even expunged criminal records.

This is an example of when consulting an attorney earlier rather than later is the wiser course of action.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know!  Sometimes a consult early on the process can alert you to potential pitfalls before you commit them.  At Tran Law Associates, we aim to make the immigration process as painless as possible, including warning you of actions that may negatively impact your application for benefits.

 

Review of “De Novo – mas alla de las fronteras (beyond borders)”

Friday, March 29th, 2013

I saw the play “De Novo – mas allas de las fronteras (beyond borders)” last night.  It was a beautiful, touching, realistic depiction of what some undocumented immigrant youth face when they are placed in deportation proceedings, produced by Houses on the Moon theater company.

There are so many different meanings of “de novo” that resonate throughout the play.  From a lawyer’s perspective, it is a term of art meaning review by a court from the beginning, without relying on prior adjudications, and assessing all evidence afresh rather than through the lens of another adjudicator’s decision.  In a more general sense, it means taking things from the beginning, or starting anew.  The play invites us to both look at the life of one undocumented immigrant youth from the beginning, and to think about the roots of the circumstances of his life, and the immigration system that we have and how it is should be reformed.  It made me think, “What controlled this person’s life?  What could he have done given his circumstances?  Could he have made different decisions?  What are our responsibilities for the circumstances of his life?  What is the U.S. government’s responsibility here?”

“De Novo” is about Edgar Chocoy-Guzman, a real person.  The play uses language taken from real documents, including letters, psychological evaluations, and court transcripts.  He was born in Guatamala in 1987.  He never really knew his father.  His mother left for America when he was an infant.  He lived in his grandfather’s house but no one really parented him.  He joins the gang Mara Salvatrucha and then leaves it, and leaves Guatemala because the gang has put a hit on him.  He joins his mother in Los Angeles and ends up joining another gang.  He is then placed in juvenile detention and then, after he has served his time, instead of being released he is transferred to immigration detention and placed in deportation proceedings, at age 15.  Knowing that he would still be a target of assassination back in Guatemala, he applies for asylum.

The scenes of immigration court proceedings were spot-on.  This is not your Law & Order polished court scene.  The court scenes in “De Novo” were just like the real thing.

There was a panel discussion after the play, and the moderator took the stage visibly emotionally affected by the performance.  I won’t tell you any more as it would spoil the play for you.  All of the actors were excellent.  The fact that the words used in the play were the actual words uttered or written as Edgar’s story unfolded in reality made the story even more affecting.  That this is a real story makes it even more immediate, compelling and thought-provoking.  This is about someone’s actual life and experience.  If you get the chance to see this, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you go.  If you know people who are hostile to immigrants, bring them along.  Let them see what it’s really like to be an unauthorized immigrant in America, instead of thinking of unauthorized immigrants one-dimensionally as nothing more than law-breakers who need to be deported.