Former attorney general Michael Mukasey made a grievous error when he ruled that immigrants have no recourse regarding errors made in their cases.
In one of the last acts of the Bush administration, Mukasey ruled that immigrants don’t have the right to have their deportation cases reopened because they had poor legal representation.
Eric Holder, who on Wednesday received the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recommendation to replace Mukasey, should review the decision and be willing to reverse it.
Mukasey’s ruling effectively determines that immigrants do not have the same right to due process that citizens and legal residents do. It has long been determined that due process is a personal right, not a citizens’ right; every person has the same right to competent legal representation, regardless of nationality, race or any other factor.
Protection of legal rights is especially important in immigration cases, where inept and even fraudulent representation is widespread. Scammers often take advantage of immigrants’ ignorance and the difference in terminology between English and Spanish.
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, “notarios” are public solicitors — licensed lawyers, often employed by the government, who help prepare cases and witnesses for trial. In the United States, virtually anyone with a clean record willing to pay a fee can become a notary public, who is authorized to witness oaths and verify affidavits, title transfers and similar items. Many people set themselves up as notaries public, then offer to assist with immigration cases. Clients mistakenly think they are hiring trained attorneys, when in reality the notaries have no legal authority and often no special knowledge regarding immigration law.
The problem is so rampant along the U.S.-Mexico border that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has made it one of his priorities. In the past year he has shut down several fraudulent “notario” offices in the state. In 2004 a Hidalgo (Texas) County jury rendered a judgment of more than $1 million, including more than $900,000 in restitution alone, against a Weslaco couple who were found to have violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Victims of such fraud deserve more than simple restitution. After all, they didn’t just lose their money; they also were deprived of the competent legal assistance they thought they were paying for. Mukasey’s ruling forces them to live with the results of bad attorneys’ work, when they should be able to resubmit their application, either on their own or with help from a new source.
Even the worst criminals normally have the right to fire bad attorneys and replace them with someone better. People whose entire future depends on an immigration courts’ decision should have the same basic right.