Have you heard the one about the undocumented Mexican woman who goes to court seeking a restraining order against her verbally and emotionally abusive husband? Well, the substitute judge in LA Superior Court, Bruce Fink, thought he was doing her a favor by telling her to leave the court or be deported.
In last Friday’s hearing in Pomona, Fink asked Gonzalez if she was in fact an illegal immigrant.
“I’m illegal,” she said.
“I hate the immigration laws that we have,” the judge responded, according to the court transcript, “but I think the bailiff could take you to the immigration services and send you to Mexico. Is that what you guys want?”
Fink then asked Salgado if he wanted his wife deported. Salgado replied he was helping his wife get her legal papers, according to the transcript.
“But she’s an illegal alien, right?” Fink said. “She has no right to be here at this point, correct?
“Yes,” Salgado said.
At that point, Fink warned Gonzalez to either leave his courtroom or risk arrest.
“I’m going to count to 20, and if you people have left this courtroom and disappeared, she isn’t going to Mexico forthwith,” Fink said, according to the court transcript. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. When I get to 20, she gets arrested and goes to Mexico.”
After Gonzalez left the courtroom, Fink asked Salgado if he wanted to stay, and he said yes.
Fink then dismissed the case: “Well, she brought the proceedings, and if she’s not here to go forward, I guess all of the requests are denied.”
On Wednesday, Fink, who has been a family law attorney for 35 years, insisted he was seeking what he thought was an agreeable solution for both parties.
“What I saw was nothing more than some yelling and screaming between a husband and wife,” he said.
“I also saw that they really didn’t want to not be together anymore.”
If he had issued the restraining order, Fink said, “we’d wind up with exactly the opposite of what these people wanted.”
“The cure could be far worse than the illness,” he said. LA Times
The story immediately reminded me of Chispa. After her first year in law school, Chispa worked at a public law agency that helped women like Aurora with their VAWA cases. I remember her telling me that it wasn’t too different from being a counselor, except that now there was a legal aspect and she was working with “clients” rather than students. That work fit in perfectly with her interests in immigration law.
Chispa just graduated from law school in May. Even though she’s now back in LA, I still haven’t seen her as she was intensely studying for the Bar.
As I read the story last Friday, I wondered what Chispa would have said about the judge’s reaction to Aurora Gonzalez. I probably would have been something along the lines of what immigration law experts said.
But immigration law experts said Fink overreached by issuing the threat. A state judge has no authority to order an arrest for violation of federal immigration laws, they said.
Regardless, Gonzalez, who lives in a domestic abuse shelter, would probably have been granted a stay of any deportation proceeding under the federal Violence Against Women Act, said Ed Pilot, a Beverly Hills immigration attorney.
“By issuing the restraining order, it could help her on her VAWA case,” he said. Also, if Gonzalez had a pending application for legal residency, as asserted, she would have been allowed a grace period while the issue was resolved, he added.
Fink “may have had the best intentions in the world,” Pilot said, “but he’s treading into an area that he understandably is not an expert on.”
Victor Nieblas, an immigration attorney and adjunct professor of immigration law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, agreed that Gonzalez would probably have been protected.
“This is what the judge doesn’t understand,” Nieblas said. “You can’t assume that because someone is here without documents that the automatic result is deportation.”
Apparently, Fink was dismissed.
A week after we initially met, Chispa and I found ourselves in the Sproul Hall lobby on a Sunday morning with a couple other women in the Freshmen Summer Program. We were waiting for Maria a peer counselor/resident assistant who had posted signs in the hallways and bathroom announcing that any student who wanted to go to Mass Sunday morning should meet in the lobby a little after 9.
Our faith has been one of the many things we’ve had in common since then and it showed. Chispa frequently asked me to pray for her or her family, something I saw my own family and fellow parishioners doing all the time. The requests were numerous over the past eight years, but this time there was no email or verbal request. I didn’t need one. I think the three-day California Bar exam warrants a prayer or two.
I hope and pray that Chispa does well on the Bar. Judging from what happened to Aurora Gonzalez, I’m sure California could use more good immigration lawyers.