Imagine you’re an undocumented resident of Washington state. Last night your significant other came home drunk, threw you across the bedroom, and threatened your life. What do you do?
Most legal professionals would advise you to go immediately to the courthouse and file a motion for a protection order. But you hesitate, recalling news reports of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents lying in wait at courthouses to snare undocumented immigrants. What do you do?
Questions like these and others arose when the WSBA Board of Governors considered whether or not to speak out against the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy of targeting undocumented immigrants at local courthouses. Without weighing in on the issues surrounding illegal immigration, we concluded that depriving anyone the protection of law or the right to due process is a greater injustice.
It’s not just the victims of crime that concern us; it’s the very structure of our legal system that we must protect. How can we expect immigrants who themselves are victims of crimes – minor or major crimes – committed by U.S. citizens to face a judge under threat of deportation? What about key witnesses who happen to be undocumented? Will their absence absolve the guilty or convict the innocent? If any place should be considered a “sensitive location” to ICE, it should be the place where justice is dealt.
During our May 18-19 meeting, the Board of Governors unanimously agreed we should not stand by in silence. As president of the WSBA, I sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly on June 1. In four brief paragraphs, I asked the secretary to consider the victims and families caught in a Catch-22. I asked the secretary to treat them with the dignity, respect, and fairness that we promise everyone in our justice system.
We live in an unprecedented time of change and challenge, especially for our legal system. In as much as the WSBA’s mission is dedicated to maintaining the high quality and standards of our profession in Washington, we are here to protect the public and ensure they have a safe, accessible, and neutral legal venue. We do not parse race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Our mission is to serve the people of Washington.