Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Living in the Machinery of Death, Part II

Last year, I wrote a post about my clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Being a clerk on a federal court of appeals is one of the great honors a young lawyer can have, and one of the great honors of my life. It was a fantastic experience. I was privileged to be mentored by a fantastic judge, to gain a first-hand experience of the legal system across a wide range of cases, and to work with some outstanding colleagues whom I'm still friends with to this day.

I also said then, and will reiterate now, that if you tallied up all the cases I had a hand in during the course of my tenure of my clerkship, and judged them based on whether they effectuated justice or injustice, I'm convinced that on net they made the world a worse place.

And the reason really boils down to immigration. Our immigration docket was a relentless, sustained, unending exercise is ruining lives. That's all we were doing. And because our review was so perfunctory (it was perfunctory because the legal standards are aggressively anti-immigrant), we got  through a lot of them. I suspect that, in terms of raw numbers (though certainly not in time spent reviewing), we handled more immigration cases than any other type of case save criminal appeals (which, incidentally, also generally involved one-page affirmances of viciously overlong prison sentences).

Anyway, I bring it up again in reference to this story about Henry, a former teenage member of MS-13 who fled to America to escape the gang, ended up forcibly conscripted back into it, and so voluntarily turned himself into the police and freely gave them information essential to arresting other members of the gang. He thought in doing so he could get a fresh start, that the FBI would protect him.

Instead, he was betrayed. Once his usefulness was over, his handlers handed him over to ICE for deportation -- making no effort to hide the fact that he had informed on MS-13 (even as he was kept in a detention center with other MS-13 members), almost assuredly marking him for death at the hands of the gang either back in El Salvador or (if by some chance he is released) back home in Long Island. Sometimes I write on such stories that they're "worse than a crime, they're a blunder" (how does one expect to get people to inform on criminal gangs if the police so nakedly stab them in the back afterwards?). But here, the blunder -- real as it is -- is outweighed by the crime. Irrespective of any tactical assessment, we shouldn't lose sight of the more fundamental reality that our immigration system took a man who was by all accounts trying to do the right thing and sold him out in a way that quite foreseeably may lead to his murder. That's something we need to forthrightly acknowledge about ourselves.

Henry does not have a spotless record -- even less so than Juan Coronilla-Guerrero (whom I wrote about in my last post). But he does not deserve to die. It is not just our immigration system that may kill him. But it is by no means innocent. It is a machinery of death, and all those who touch it -- myself very much included -- have blood on our hands.

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