Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It's a long story, and the matter is still pending, but I find myself representing a Resident Alien in a deportation proceeding. Obviously details are going to have to be confidential, but we managed to have the detainee released on fairly reasonable bond this morning, and I am allowing myself a breath of optimism on the ultimate outcome.

The client and I are fortunate to have the assistance of the Volunteer Lawyers Project in this affair. Immigration law operates at the edge where the Constitution and sovereignty meet, and one consequence of that is that the usual expectations with respect to due process, procedure and evidence operate very differently than what I am accustomed to. There is a complex, specialized vocabulary at work. The stakes are very high, and the odds favor the house.

Bottom line, the first principle of sovereignty is a state's ability to control its boarders. What that means is non-citizens are in the country at sufferance, and are subject to deportation under the rules that Congress has created. Conviction of certain crimes will get you a ticket out. Deportation proceedings are civil in nature, which means that the alien has a right to a lawyer, but no right to have that lawyer paid for. It also means that the burden of proof is a civil burden of proof, even though the consequences resemble penal consequences-- as does the process.

The Buffalo Detention Center, and the Immigration Court where I appeared today, are in a building in an anonymous complex of buildings in Batavia. I went out yesterday to meet with my client and was taken to the little room you see in movies, with a metal shelf separating me from my client. There are two doors, one on either side of the shelf, and the rule is that only one door can be opened at a time. I went in, then the door behind me was locked and the other door was opened to allow the client to enter. At the conclusion of our interview my client knocked on the door on his side which was unlocked and opened for him to exit. After that door was locked behind him my door was opened and I was escorted out. This was the informal interview room-- if they'd thought my guy was dangerous there were booths with thick glass panels separating the visitor from the detainee, with a telephone on the wall. As it was, before I was let into the little room the ICE agent had a polite conversation with me.

"You've never been here before, have you?" I allowed that I had not. "On the wall behind you is a panic button. If he comes over the table at you, or if anything else happens, push that button and we'll come in." This contingency was the furthest thing from my mind, but as far as atmospherics go it impressed upon me just how far I was outside my usual comfort zone. When I next see my client it will be in my office, and when we next appear in court it will be in a regular courtroom, that we will be able to walk into together. I'm hoping that's how we will walk out as well.

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