Justice v. Compassion

As an immigration and criminal attorney in Nevada, I am bound to the laws of our land. I love and respect our country’s constitution.  While upholding these precepts I hold dear, I find I am also able to show compassion for those clients I serve. I do this by protecting their rights that our great country affords them.  I do this by treating them with the respect that all human beings deserve. I do this by seeking fair and equitable justice as their legal advocate. I find this compassion is as equally important as the letter of the law.  As I reflect my personal philosophies, I can’t help but wonder at the direction our country’s legal system is heading. Are we abandoning compassion for justice and order? Is there indeed room for both? There have been several recent events that I’ve been pondering lately.

On April 11, 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a Memorandum for all federal prosecutors. He urged federal prosecutors to “focus on criminal cases that will further reduce illegality.” Calling for “consistent and vigorous enforcement” of key immigration laws. The laws he truly focused on were 8 U.S.C. § 1324 “bringing in and harboring certain aliens” and related offenses. Priority was to be given to section 1327 “aiding or assisting criminal aliens to enter,” and section 1328 “importation of aliens for immoral purposes.” I promote measures that in good conscience dissuade illegal activities, but question extreme implementations of such measures.

In a recent NPR article by Lorne Matalon, three current criminal immigration case studies were examined. The first, Scott Warren, a college geography instructor and volunteer with a group called No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths) was arrested and is facing three felony charges including conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. No Mas Muertes leaves jugs of water in the desert along migrant trails to help prevent dehydration and exposure, leading causes of death among migrants in the Arizona border deserts. Warren, from Ajo, Arizona was allegedly seen talking with two migrants who sheltered in Ajo. Warren denies any participation in sheltering plans, and counters that his First Amendment religious freedom is being violated.  He asserts that the government has turned his spiritual belief (of assisting those in distress) into a criminal act. 

In the second example, an elected city and county attorney from Marfa, Texas, Teresa Todd, is under investigation for human smuggling because she stopped to help three ailing migrants in February 2019. Todd noted that one young man was pleading for aid, explaining that his sister, 18 year old Esmeralda, was in trouble. Todd sheltered the migrants in her car, as she tried to contact a friend, a legal counsel for the local Border Patrol. Before Todd reached her friend, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and called the Border Patrol. Todd was soon being read her Miranda warnings. Eight days later a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigator served a search warrant for her cellphone at Todd’s office. She was told that her phone would be returned in a matter of hours. The sheriff of Presidio County, Danny Dominguez stated that anyone with undocumented migrants in their car risks arrest, even if the vehicle is not moving. Todd’s phone was held for 53 days before finally being returned. Esmeralda was told by doctors that she was on the brink of death by the time she got to the hospital. 

Finally is Ana Adlersteina.  She is a U.S. citizen and volunteer at a Mexican migrant shelter. Adlerstein wanted to observe the process of seeking asylum, so she decided to accompany an asylum seeker from Sonora, Mexico to the border crossing at Lukeville, Arizona to experience the process. Instead, Adlerstein was accused of human smuggling and detained at the border for several hours. The border official had been previously told that a U.S. citizen would be accompanying an asylum seeker that day. Current law allows for a migrant to request asylum once they step onto U.S. soil.

Thus far, only Warren is facing criminal charges, however, Adlerstein has received subsequent calls from DHS investigators and Todd is still waiting to find out if she will be indicted for human smuggling. Their lives are in the balance as I write this, at the mercy of our ever evolving justice system.

I am a Christian, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I often find myself reconciling between my Christian faith and my legal logic. I tell my clients before they hire me that I will protect their rights, but not defend their actions. As I read this NPR article, I was reminded of the biblical story of the “Good Samaritan.” Sometimes we forget that those human beings most affected by the letter of the law still deserve human decency and dignity. Are we forgetting that most of our ancestors were once immigrants, many coming into the country illegally themselves? Our Lady Liberty still proudly stands, declaring to the world “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I firmly believe in protecting the rule of law, but in many cases like those above, maybe compassion and common sense has a bigger precedence. If we continue to punish people for helping others, how will that influence the moral fabric of our society? And at what point does our basic humanity degrade completely?

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