Maybe I Am Ready

The weeks are flying by. The past two weeks felt like they only lasted a few seconds because I am enjoying my work so much. I only wish the drive to and from work was a bit shorter.

This past week I submitted a written decision to the judge who requested it. After reading through the draft, she came to my office and told me that she loved my verbiage and even took a few phrases for her own use in the future. I could not believe how much a judge liked my writing. I have been insecure about my writing since middle school. I have worked to improve it and take pride in my ability to write a coherent piece. Knowing that a judge likes my writing makes me feel like I am more ready to become a lawyer than I feel I am.

I have completed one decision thus far and am writing a second decision currently; the decisions involve noncitizens from Guatemala – the case above was a cancellation of removal case and the other one was a withholding of removal case.

A cancellation of removal case involves proving four elements: (1) continuous physical presence for at least ten years proceeding the application; (2) good moral character; (3) that the noncitizen has not committed several particular criminal offences; and (4) exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a lawful permanent resident or a US citizen spouse, parent, or child. The last element is the most difficult to prove as the mere fact a country to which the noncitizen would be deported contains unlivable conditions is not enough to establish hardship. I enjoy using my words strategically to prove the facts presented before the judge meet the hardship requirement.

A withholding of removal case requires proving that the noncitizen more likely than not experienced past persecution which is persecution on account of a protected ground – religion, political opinion, nationality, race, and particular social group; this is similar to asylum cases except that asylum cases are lower standard, not being required to prove the noncitizen was more likely than not persecuted on account of a protected ground. For both asylum and withholding cases, the noncitizen has to prove that the persecution was committed by the government or a non-state actor the government was unwilling or unable to control. If past persecution is established, then there is the presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution; the government can rebut the presumption by showing there are changed circumstances and internal relocation is possible. 

Many of the elements require analyzing country conditions submitted in the record. I have thus read extensive information on the country conditions in Guatemala such as the economic disparity, corruption, violence, and discrimination toward minorities and women. I spoke to my supervisor regarding how I enjoy learning about country conditions to a more extensive extent than I have done in the past, especially since my research in school has often not focused on South America. I will hopefully receive cases where the noncitizen is from a country other than Guatemala so I can learn about other country conditions as well. My supervisor said that it is one of the aspects she enjoys most about her job – learning about the history of countries and how those conditions can change the analysis and outcome of a noncitizen’s case.

During the past two weeks I had to opportunity to attend the Richmond Immigration Adjudication Center’s one-year anniversary celebration. A committee ordered barbeque and cupcakes and organized a small party at lunch to say congratulations and thank you for all the hard work in establishing a strong adjudication center. They said the Center is growing, adding more employees this summer. It made me feel proud to be a part of a growing branch of the EOIR, being a small part of the Center reaching its full potential.

I also attended another hearing these past two weeks where a competency motion had been granted by the presiding judge. I was curious to watch how the competency was determined and the steps afterward. It was interesting to hear the attorneys on both sides argue their positions, see the judge decide which way he would rule, then speak to the judge afterward about what he was thinking while conducting the competency hearing. The case moved forward, and it was another grant. After watching three hearings where the noncitizen was granted relief from removal at the hearing and having written two grant decisions now, it definitely appears like if a judge is overall inclined to grant relief from removal, they will unless there is a glaring reason not to grant.

One interesting aspect of immigration court I noticed this week regards the fact that if a noncitizen meets the standard elements of the relief they applied for, an immigration judge has discretion, weighing negative and positive factors, to determine if the noncitizen should stay. After my immigration law course, I did not expect there to be as many grants as I have witnessed at this internship. As one judge remarked, there is a lot of case law out there to support whatever decision they make. Seeing how caring and thoughtful the judges are toward factors such as being in the US for more than twenty years and setting up a life, makes me see how noncitizens have more of a fighting chance than I first perceived. The barriers to relief from removal are high, but many judges will grant when they can.