For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Monday, February 08, 2010

"...made me feel like a real public servant"

One of the most salient social changes effected by Hurricane Katrina is the surge in the mostly-Hispanic immigrant population in New Orleans. Prior to the storm, the Spanish-speaking population was of negligible size; some estimates now put the number of Hispanics in the city at 40,000 – out of a total municipal population of around 350,000.
In many communities across the US, impoverished Hispanics without valid immigration status face a triple-threat: the challenges inherent in their dire economic circumstances; their lack of knowledge of the local language and customs; and the fragility of their presence in the US, continuously passing between the formal economy of citizens and the shadow economy of illegal immigrants. Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) recognizes the need for legal representation among New Orleans’ indigent non-citizens, especially non-English speakers, and I had the opportunity to assist in the provision of that service.
When law enforcement authorities detain persons they suspect of having less-than-legal standing in the US, they often report their detention to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Such was the case for my client. Having already been deported in 2000, his deportation order was still in effect, so he was eligible to be sent back to Honduras within a matter of weeks. Aware of the circumstances, he was prepared –ready, in fact – to be sent home, and simply wanted to be deported as quickly as possible. However, the municipal infractions for which he had originally been detained prevented ICE from executing his deportation. With guidance from the OPD, I was able to intervene on his behalf. His traffic violations were dropped, and his file was cleared for processing by ICE. As a result, he may be going home as early as next week, rather than sitting in Orleans Parish Prison until March 31, the original date of his next court appearance for those same traffic violations. I was pleased that my efforts served my client; the satisfaction of knowing that I had reduced the burden on the Orleans Parish courts and prison systems, thereby serving the residents and taxpayers of New Orleans, made me feel like a real public servant. --Dac Cannon

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