Elizabeth C.


As Interviewed by Alex Barrera-Waters, on March 15, 2015

Elizabeth C.: In Her Own Words

My name is Elizabeth C. and I was born in 1967 in Encino, California, the beautiful valley. And my education is, for Undergraduate, I went to UC Berkeley, and then I went for my Masters at the University of Arizona, and then I went on to Law School at UC Davis.

I think my biggest mentor was in Law School. He was a professor who founded the Immigration Law Clinic. He was just a real visionary and really passionate about international human rights and also about setting new standards and making it so that the law students could provide more representation for people who wouldnít normally get any representation because, in immigration court you donít have a right to a free attorney like you do in a criminal case. So, a lot of people who are in deportation proceedings are just kind of on their own. So, this law professor was a real visionary. He provided a lot of quality representation to people who otherwise would have just been deported. He also took on governments, like he took on dictators and found creative ways to sue them in our country for acts that they did in their country. That was just inspirational to me.

[Immigration-Law-Specialist] is sort of a unique position because itís sort of a new area to have a specialist. Since there was a Supreme Court case called Pedia v. Kentucky and in that case, the Supreme Court said that a criminal defense attorney, if theyíre going to provide affective representation for their client they also need to inform a client, if the client is not a US citizen, part of your representation in a criminal case is to investigate what the consequences will be for that person in their immigration context. So, itís not enough just to tell a person: ĎOk if you accept this offer from the government, youíre gonna serve this amount of time in jail, youíll be on probation, and youíll have these conditions,í but youíll also need to affirmatively research what will happen to their immigration status.

So sort of from that, they started realizing that in public defender offices you need to have someone who can research these issues so that the lawyers are able to advise their clients and comply with the Supreme Courtís requirement for effective representation.

I think there are a lot of social injustices for immigrants in the US especially undocumented immigrants who become in a way an underclass or people who are vulnerable to being taken advantage of because if you donít have status you canít speak up. For example, if work conditions are really bad for you, you canít complain because then they can say, well we could either report you to immigration and get you deported or weíll just fire you because you have no grounds to complain because youíre just lucky to have this job. So I think there are social injustices because its... you donít get the same benefits that other people who are here who are documented have. And maybe you have children who were born here who are US citizens but then youíre not treated as a fullÖ they donít have the same rights.

Obviously, if someone in your family gets put in deportation proceedings, thatís a really difficult situation because you have to decide where you belong; where your fight is. Is your fight to stay in the country where youíve built a life and where youíve had children who are US citizens, is that your country? Or do you just give up and go back and take your kids who donít belong to the country youíre from and then strap them with a new life that theyíre not familiar with?

Right now I represent someone who is in the middle of deportation proceedings and I feel great about that because if our office didnít have this position he would not have a lawyer and he would probably be deported even though he was brought here when he was four years old. Theyíre trying to accuse him of being a gang member even though he just grew up in a bad neighborhood and knows people who are in gangs. But, without an attorney to defend him in immigration court then the judge would just think: ĎOk well they said heís a gang member so heís a gang memberí.

But, right now weíre doing an investigation and interviewing all the people who know him and all the people who were part of the incident when he got arrested by immigration for being undocumented to show that basically the immigration agent was lying and heís not a gang member.