The day began as a day of firsts. My first time as an attorney in a courtroom. My first time as an attorney in an immigration courtroom. My first time representing a client in said courtroom. My first time stating my full name and then the words "for the respondent." Needless to say, it was the first time I ever felt that nervous.
What should have been a short hearing on a procedural matter turned out to be a terribly tragic drama. After the judge entered the courtroom, she sized me up, warned me about being careful about what I say into the record, and stated (off the record), "No one case is worth your license." I was perplexed. What on earth was she talking about? Why would I lose my license to practice law for showing up to represent someone in immigrant detention as a pro bono attorney?
After dismissing the procedural matter that I was there to represent the client for, she immediately moved on to the second matter at hand. Long story short, there was no way I could ethically take on representation for the second matter as I had little to no preparation. After I admitted this to the judge and asked for more time, she rejected the request, excused me, and proceeded with the second matter.
I watched helplessly as my client was grilled for three hours and then ordered removed from the country. There was nothing I could do. Despite the three years of law school, despite acing Immigration Law, despite passing the CA bar, I sat helplessly as a person in a black robe sitting in front of a sign that read "Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur" brought an immigrant to tears. My client, better known as the "case" at hand, became one of the thousands thrown into the pile of refuse, the rejects "justice" deems unworthy of living among us in this great nation of immigrants. There were six people in that courtroom. All have undoubtedly made mistakes in their lives. Yet, only one was handpicked by "justice" to suffer and pay for her mistakes by being removed from a country she has lived in for nearly 20 years.
On the way home and for days later, the statement still rings in my head. I keep going over what happened and wonder whether I could have done something differently. Realistically I know that I could not have possibly represented her in the second matter. But the sting of what happened remains with me. And the echo of those words remain hanging in the air. I wonder if there would be a "case" that was worth a license. Maybe she is right and no one "case" is. But maybe because they all are so no one "case" can be. Because behind every "case" is a person. And every person, regardless of who they are, would be worth it, right?
It seems regardless of the work or the effort or the skills or the time or the pure dumb luck it took for me to earn that license, it is not the most important thing in the world. Far from it. As I try to move on from the echo of those words, it seems to me that there would be no greater privilege than losing a license if it happened in defense of the most vulnerable among us. Because at least then I would know I tried.