When foreign nationals need representation in immigration court, they usually turn to attorneys. However, many foreign nationals cannot afford a lawyer, or have a case that an attorney may not want to bother with. Most end up having to represent themselves in court. That leaves potentially millions of immigrants without a voice in the process, and without a chance to properly make their case for legal residency.
“The American public does not understand how foreign nationals are treated in immigration court,” Ralph Isenberg of the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment said. “They do not understand the process. They are not told their options. They do not know the law. Most cannot speak or write English.”
In order to help these foreign nationals, Isenberg uses an obscure provision in immigration law that allows non-attorneys who qualify as a “reputable individual” to act as an advocate on their behalf in court. The complexities of immigration law would scare away most non-attorneys from attempting to be an advocate, but Isenberg’s extensive experience dealing with the immigration system makes him the perfect “reputable individual.”
There are certain qualifications one must meet to be a “reputable individual,” but it generally includes being someone of some standing in the community who does not personally profit from assisting an immigrant in court.
“In my opinion, the ‘reputable individual’ provision was put into law as a fail-safe when someone falls through the cracks of the system or mistakes have been made. An organization like ours, if we were permitted in to court, could call out ICE when they break the law, or use legal tricks on foreign nationals. We would make sure the foreign national understood the charges.”
Isenberg says he has seen numerous instances of foreign nationals in immigration court who are unaware of the proceedings they are in or the gravity of their situation. Not only do they have no representation, their situation is often not fully disclosed by ICE agents eager to deport. Finally, immigration judges, who should ensure the foreign national is being treated fairly, often fails to ensure the immigrant is receiving due process or proper representation.
“The immigration judge has the obligation to go out of his way to explain the process to a foreign national until they understand. But in the courtroom, the foreign national often has no idea what is going on,” he said. “The American public does not understand how these folks are treated in court. It is why Congress and Homeland Security is saying to slow down on deportation proceedings, but when it comes to ICE, there is no uniform enforcement. It all depends on how nice the regional director is.”
The lack of proper representation for foreign nationals often leads to a failure of due process, unnecessary deportations, and a miscarriage of justice. Isenberg feels his role as a reputable individual ensures at least some foreign nationals are treated fairly, something he feels doesn’t happen in Dallas, where most of his work is done. “Dallas is a harsh and brutal district. Early morning raids on families continue in Dallas. It is cruel and unusual for kids to live under the threat of their parent’s deportation, but ICE has an expedited process to deport without immigrants knowing their rights.”
Even with the “reputable individual” provision, Isenberg says Dallas ICE officials often will not recognize his right to help, and judges often question whether he should be in court. “When I assert my right to free speech, I am shut down because I am not an attorney.” Once he reminds judges of the law, however, most give Isenberg his say in court. For some foreign nationals, it makes all the difference in the world.
The resistance from ICE and the courts doesn’t stop Isenberg from continuing to help foreign nationals. He knows he may be the only help they may have in finding legal residency in America. “They do not know government workings, but I understand the Constitution. I know what democracy should be. These people deserve due process,” he said.
Victor Medina is the editor of WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to receive a weekly email update from WhenLiberalsAttack.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.