Lumpkin, in fact, has just one immigration lawyer.
“I’m the only immigration lawyer anywhere near here,” said Bobby Olds, who lives in Columbus but opened an office this year a few doors down from Jason’s Taxidermy on the main square in Lumpkin, a fading timber town of 1,400.
And yet, he said, he barely makes a living. Last year, he said, he earned $2,400 from immigration cases.
“The Hispanics,” he said, “they just can’t afford it.”
In the end, the outcome of immigration cases in the Stewart Detention Center seems almost preordained: Stewart judges ordered 98 percent of the detainees deported last fiscal year, the highest rate in the United States, compared with 71 percent nationwide and 57 percent in Boston.
‘Please do not let me die in jail’
When immigration cases do make it to the public court system — usually because of criminal charges or when the immigrant files a lawsuit demanding release — the culture clash can be jarring.
Judge Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said his court overturned immigration appeals court decisions “a staggering 40 percent” of the time in 2005, including one decision to deport a Moroccan man based on a paperwork mix-up that Posner called “completely arbitrary.”
“The adjudication of these [immigration] cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice,” lamented Posner, a conservative judge.
In Boston, Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf heavily criticized the immigration court’s handling of a 19-year-old immigrant from Panama who had spent 21 months in jail fighting deportation, acting as his own attorney. Erick Flores-Powell, who came to the United States at age 5, was a suspected gang member and authorities wanted him deported, but Wolf couldn’t understand why the process was taking so long.
“By my calculation, at least seven of the 21 months he’s been locked up is because the immigration judge couldn’t conduct the proceedings correctly,” Wolf said during a 2009 review of a lawsuit that Flores-Powell filed asking for his release, faulting immigration judge Paul M. Gagnon for technical mistakes.
Wolf also couldn’t understand why officials had transferred Flores-Powell to his courtroom in handcuffs; a shackled immigrant is a common sight in immigration court, but not in federal court.
“Why do you think it’s necessary for him to be in handcuffs?” Wolf asked the Suffolk County deputies. “Because I’ve been conducting court proceedings for 24 years. I had Gary Sampson, who murdered three people, [mobsters] Frank Salemme and Stevie Flemmi, and none of them had to be handcuffed . . . Can we take the cuffs off of him?”
Though prosecutors argued that Wolf had no authority to hear the case because it was an immigration matter, Wolf said Flores-Powell’s immigration case was riddled with so many errors that he decided to hold a bond hearing himself. He ordered Flores-Powell released in December 2009.
Flores-Powell ultimately won his deportation case and now works in construction. “They throw you with the wolves” in immigration court, Flores-Powell said last week. “I kept praying and got to Judge Wolf. And he just followed the law.”
Earlier this year in Boston, US District Court Judge William G. Young chided an immigration judge for his part in keeping an elderly refugee from Poland locked up for five years awaiting deportation.
“Please, do not let me die in jail,” Walter Miszczuk, now 75, had written to a federal judge at one point during his long fight against deportation, during which he had been transferred to a detention center in Alabama, more than 1,000 miles from his Rhode Island home, and criminally charged for failing to apply for a Polish passport.
To be sure, Miszczuk, a retired auto mechanic, contributed greatly to his own problems. Though he came here as a legal refugee with a young daughter in 1982, he pleaded no contest to sexual assault on a teenager in 1994. Then, in 2006, he served brief sentences for twice violating a restraining order taken out by his former girlfriend, which were violations of probation for a domestic vandalism conviction.
But Miszczuk spoke poor English, did not have an immigration lawyer, and said he did not understand that pleading no contest to the charges would trigger his deportation. He insists that most of the charges are false, and a criminal lawyer who was appointed in Rhode Island, Gerard Donley, recently persuaded a judge to throw out the 1994 sex assault altogether.
Meanwhile, Miszczuk remained locked up in legal limbo for years because he refused to apply for a new Polish passport, which US officials needed to deport him.Continued...