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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. "Us Versus Them" in Immigration Court

    There’s a quote attributed to legendary DC-lawyer Jake Stein that has helped define my practice as an attorney: “I’ve never litigated a case where I wasn't better friends with my opposing counsel at the end of the case than at the beginning.”
    Though it may be satisfying, beating up opposing counsel probably violates the Rules of Professional Conduct.
    His philosophy may be Old School and--in these days, where being nice to someone you disagree with has become all too rare--almost radical, but I’ve taken it to heart. I try to maintain a congenial and trusting relationship with the DHS attorneys who sit across from me in court. As a result, I believe my clients are better off—and so am I.


    The former President of the DC Bar, Tim Webster, touched on this issue last year in an article about the “Balkanization of Lawyers.” What he meant was that we lawyers tend to fall into opposing camps, Us versus Them, and never the twain shall meet. In Immigration World, that means attorneys who represent immigrants and asylum seekers, on the one hand, and government attorneys, on the other.


    Mr. Webster laments the division of our profession in this manner, and points out that it is often bad for our clients, who benefit when lawyers are able to “work cooperatively with opposing counsel towards a consensual resolution” of their cases. Perhaps Mr. Webster’s observation is more applicable to civil cases, where a negotiated monetary settlement is the norm, but I think it also applies in Immigration Court. When we have a cooperative relationship with DHS, we are often able to reach better resolutions for our clients. DHS attorneys are more likely to give us the benefit of the doubt, and more likely to stipulate to part (or sometimes all) of a case.


    Mr. Webster also argues that the idea of us-versus-them stands in opposition to our core values as attorneys. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, we are required to be honest and fair--to the client, to other attorneys, and to the tribunal (and also to other people we encounter in the course of our work). When we view opposing counsel or Judges as “the enemy,” it becomes easier to justify behavior that risks violating our obligations under the Rules, which can harm our clients (and land us in hot water).


    Unlike perhaps some areas of law, immigration law has a strong ideological component. Many of the attorneys who represent immigrants do so because they believe in human rights and they want to keep families together. For such attorneys—and I include myself among them—our work represents an expression of our moral and/or religious values. In other words, it’s more than just a job; it’s a mission.


    Does this make it harder for us to work cooperatively with opposing counsel (DHS)? Is it more urgent that we do so? For me, the answer to both these questions is yes. When our clients’ lives and futures are on the line, it can be very difficult to maintain a cordial relationship with a government attorney who is fighting to have that client deported. But even in the hardest-fought case, there is value in maintaining lines of communication. For example, even where the DHS attorney will not compromise and is fighting all-out for removal, there still exists the possibility of stipulating to evidence and witnesses, and of a post-order stay of removal. Severing the connection does not serve the client (though it may satisfy the ego), and certainly won’t help future clients, and so to me, there is little value in burning bridges, even when I believe DHS’s position is unjust.


    All that said, there is no doubt that we will often disagree with our opposing counsel, and that we will fight as hard as we can for our clients. This is also a duty under the Rules of Professional Conduct (zealous advocacy), and for many of us, it is an expression of our deeply held belief in Justice.


    With the ascension of the Trump Administration, and its more aggressive approach towards non-citizens, I believe it is more important than ever for us lawyers to keep good relationships with our DHS counterparts. While some government attorneys are glad to be “unleashed” and to step-up deportation efforts, many others are uncomfortable with the Administration’s scorched-Earth strategy. These DHS attorneys (and I suspect they are the majority) take seriously their obligation to do justice; not simply to remove everyone that ICE can get their hands on.


    While the environment has become more difficult, I plan to continue my Old School approach. It works for me, it has worked for my clients, and I think it is particularly crucial in the current atmosphere. We lawyers--the immigration bar and DHS--should continue to lead by example, and continue to maintain the high ethical standards that our profession sets for us. In this way, we can help serve as a counter-balance to our country's leaders, whose divisive, ends-justify-the-means approach has no use for the basic principles of morality or comity that have long served our profession and our democracy.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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