The past few weeks have seen me on a couple of road trips to Lumpkin, Georgia – home of the Stewart Detention Center and Stewart Immigration Court. I’d like to talk openly about my feelings about doing this kind of immigration work. Today the focus is on the Detention Center, but I’ll be sure to post later about my experiences with the Court.
Stewart Detention Center is about 2.5 hours from my office. Most Georgia immigration attorneys, like myself, are in the metro-Atlanta area. This makes traveling to Stewart an all-day event. As a solo practitioner, it’s hard for me to be away from the office an entire day. That means no other consultations, no other casework, no interviews for green cards or naturalization. There is no other attorney back in Marietta to cover for me. This is the main reason why hiring me to go down to Stewart is so expensive.
When I do meet with a client in Stewart, he’s often seen an Immigration Judge once, or he’s about to in the next week or so. I have to come prepared for a million different scenarios because whatever we decide to do, we have to do it fast. With no internet, no printer, and no copier, it is extremely difficult to prepare a case in Stewart. It’s fighting a battle with more than just my hand tied behind my back – it’s like fighting with a blindfold on, too.
More often than not, I’ve had to tell people that there is little no chance of getting out, even on bond. It’s horrible to tell a man that he won’t be able to say goodbye to his 4-year-old daughter or that he won’t be able to kiss his wife goodbye. The next time he tastes freedom, he’ll be back home in Mexico or Guatemala.
Sometimes, clients do have ways to fight to stay in the United States. I tell clients they have a chance and their eyes light up. They want to fight. They sit up straight and get focused. Then I tell them that they may have to sit in detention while we fight. And that fight could take upwards of six months. And because all of our evidence is due to the court in one week they need to pay full legal fees by tomorrow. And that, after all of this, they may only have a 5% chance of success. I see them physically react to all of these reality checks – they slouch, frown, look away and seem to age ten years in about ten seconds. The fight is over before it ever really began.
Why would someone want to hire an attorney to just give this sort of bad news? I guess there are a few possible answers. Maybe someone does want to fight, no matter how long it takes in Stewart. Maybe there is a little utilized law that will help the immigrant out. Perhaps they feel better knowing that they did everything they could to stay, but that it just wasn’t legally possible. Or maybe it’s just comforting to have someone walk you through the steps. No matter how miserable the journey is – I won’t let you walk it alone once I’m on your side.