From 1981 to 1984 I represented a Guatemalan refugee and her two children in an attempt to help them gain political asylum. I am a Family Law Attorney — I don’t practice Immigration Law. But this woman needed my help. A member of her family had been killed by a government-backed “Death Squad” before her eyes. She was then targeted as a “subversive” because of her association with him, and for being a member of a bible study group (Indians, poor farmers, and Catholics were all considered to be subversives. In fact, priests and nuns were among those murdered by the death squads.)
Bands of armed rebels roamed the Guatemalan hills. Their objective was to overthrow the government. But the rebels were killing innocent people, too, and kidnapping for ransom — much like the gangs that are running rampant in Central America today. For months after the death of her brother-in-law, my client was forced to hide in caves in the mountains, and sneak into town to pick food out of garbage cans so her children could survive. When the time was right, this brave woman fled. Carrying a two-year-old toddler and a nineteen-day-old baby, she made the dangerous trek through Mexico and across the U.S. border. However, it was not long before she was caught, and deportation proceedings began.
I tried to find an attorney who would handle this woman’s case, but nobody I talked to was able or willing to help. They said it was hopeless. So, I took on her case myself. After three long years of litigation, and over $100,000 in free legal services, I finally prevailed, and my client was allowed to remain in the U.S. with her children. We didn’t win our case for asylum (at the time, the U.S. was backing the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, making a political asylum case almost impossible to prove). But we prevailed because I was able to keep my client here on appeal long enough for the winds of public opinion to shift. The President ultimately granted amnesty to undocumented workers who could prove that they had been in the U.S. for (I think it was) seven years. Anti-immigrant sentiment was rampant then, as it is now, but intense and unremitting pressure from both the sanctuary movement and the business community resulted in the grant of amnesty. The bottom line was that our economy needed those undocumented workers. Ironically, the President who granted amnesty to the “illegal aliens” was Ronald Reagan – a Republican.
BUT HERE’S THE BEST PART — The day I told my client that we had won and she and her children could stay in the U.S. . . . was the same day my wife surprised me with the news that she was pregnant with our first child!