Thanksgiving... In current parlance, we might say our relationship with this traditional American holiday has become “complicated.” Still, with heads bowed in supplication to divine providence, or with humble, secular gesture, most of us continue to ritually gather to give communal thanks for the enduring bounty of our nation’s harvest.
According to a mixture of history and legend, through their noble generosity the indigenous population welcomed the men, women and children who survived the arduous journey in their oceanic caravan for the promise of a better life on a distant shore.
Four centuries later, we are witness to the plight of Central American men, women, and children, who have undertaken their own difficult trek to our southern border. Almost all seek refuge from terrible gang violence, political corruption, and cruel gender-based oppression. In contrast to the large numbers of humanity that comprise the overland caravan shown in daily news coverage, a small number of asylum seekers, much like the pilgrims long ago, have crossed a great expanse of ocean to reach our islands. Unlike the new arrivals of centuries ago, who believed in the truth and superiority of their cultural ethos and sought to convince the native population of the same, the vast majority of hopeful newcomers today aspire for no more than to meld into our populace, to find for themselves and their families a place in the American Dream.
Several months ago, Law Professor Calvin Pang and Lowell Chun-Hoon, a director of the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, requested assistance from the HSBA in establishing a full-time Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Hawaii School of Law. Support from various sources included that provided by the HSBA. John Egan, a veteran local immigration lawyer, was recently appointed as Director of the Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic at the Richardson School of Law. His students have taken on the case of a Central American woman who, with her 12-year old son, made the trek from their home to the Brownsville, Texas border crossing to escape a life of physical abuse and sexual assault.
She and her son made it to the border before the “zero tolerance” and family separation policies were implemented. Thus, she was able to enter the United States and relocate to Hawaii where she has her family and has been able to work. Her petition for asylum will be heard in U.S. Immigration Court here. Because of rules that prevail in Immigration Court, the students, who have interviewed witnesses and briefed the case, soon will be able to appear in court to argue on behalf of their clients.
This newsletter makes no claim as to the merits of either side of the case. However, there can be no question that advocacy by the students, under the supervision of experienced legal counsel, in support of an underprivileged, legally unsophisticated human being, is squarely within the mission of the HSBA, “....to unite and inspire Hawaii’s lawyers to promote justice, serve the public, and improve the legal profession.”
The outcome is yet to be determined. Recent governmental decisions may prove to be challenging, if not insurmountable. But one thing is certain: due to the students’ efforts, under the guidance of their able mentor and with the support of the law school, a woman and her child will have their day in court.
Epilogue: The morning after the above was submitted for publication, I learned that the hearing was underway in Immigration Court. I managed to attend the last half of the hearing. At its conclusion, the presiding judge, showing sensitivity in addressing the applicant for asylum directly, expressed his belief in her credibility. Nevertheless, the Court found that she had not met her burden of proof under the current state of applicable law. Accordingly, her application for asylum was denied, and it was ordered that she be removed from the United States.
Her counsel will appeal.
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I would like to thank all those who participated in the Hawaii Bar Convention on November 2, 2018, with special thanks to our featured speaker Chief Justice Hon. Mark E. Recktenwald. I also would like to congratulate award recipients Allen Hoe, Gary Slovin, and David Hayakawa, and the newly installed officers and members of the HSBA Board of Directors, Young Lawyers Division, and Senior Counsel Division.
And congratulations to our newest admitted members of the HSBA, sworn in to practice law before the State and Federal courts on November 9, 2018.
~ Happy Thanksgiving to all ~