I have been practicing law since the late 90’s, mostly in child welfare cases and family law. But like many attorneys, I slowly started adding an immigration component to my work. For me, it was 2012 when immigration cases became part of my practice – primarily family-based petitions and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)-related cases. This past year, through the Immigration Justice Campaign, I took on my first removal defense case, more specifically, an opportunity to file Motions to Reopen (MTR) for Indonesian Christians at risk of deportation. This task, though at times trying, was tremendously fulfilling and exciting.
I first met my clients in the office of my co-counsel, Laura Greenberg-Chao. We wanted to meet our clients at the same time to introduce ourselves and to gather as much information as possible. Mr. and Mrs. Sombah came to the meeting with their adult son, who helped translate. Mr. and Mrs. Sombah had been living in the United States peacefully for years, and like dozens of other Indonesian families, were now at risk of immediate deportation despite having been protected from removal under previous administrations. Mr. and Mrs. Sombah have a long history of service in their church—both are deacons and associate pastors. Additionally, Mrs. Sombah leads intercessory prayers, and Mr. Sombah works on sound and lighting for the worship team.
Our meeting was pleasant, despite the circumstances, and our clients kept expressing their deep gratitude for our help in filing MTRs on their behalf. An MTR, if granted, would reopen their removal (deportation) proceedings and their asylum applications. Reopening is strongly disfavored in the immigration court system, and Laura and I knew that the odds were not in our favor. However, the resources that the Immigration Justice Campaign provided me on this case included training materials, mentorship by Ilana Greenstein, and technical assistance. As a solo practitioner, these were lifelines from beginning to end.
Throughout our representation of this family, there were a few scary moments, like the time I went to file an appearance in Manchester, NH with my clients as they went to their first check-in with ICE. I was kept waiting in a room for what seemed like hours, but was probably not more than an hour and a half. My heart rate sped up as I thought about all of the worst-case scenarios. Fortunately, our clients came out soon after, unscathed. For the Sombahs, deportation would guarantee danger for them and their family still living in Indonesia. Work and medical treatment would be nearly impossible to obtain if they were to return, and they would almost certainly be persecuted for their faith.
In an unexpected but deeply celebrated turn of events, the Sombah family’s MTR was granted, meaning they will have another chance at asylum in the United States. But the good news doesn’t stop there. 25 out of the 26 MTRs filed on behalf of 46 Indonesian Christians by the Justice Campaign and its partners were granted.
For those of you considering volunteering with the Justice Campaign, know that the stakes are very high in removal cases. Despite this pressure, the resources, technical assistance, and support of the Justice Campaign are unrivaled. In my case, I had co-counsel who brought perspectives to the table that I might not have otherwise thought of, as well as extra staff to support our work. This made for a tremendous experience and set us up to win, even with the deck stacked against us.
The Immigration Justice Campaign does extremely good work and the impact of these cases cannot be greater – on the client and on the lawyer who walks with the client along the path toward freedom and safety. I encourage you to join the community and see how you can get involved today: www.immigrationjustice.us.