Let me tell you a story about why lawyers make a difference. Four individuals are alive today because I was willing to be their lawyer. These four are Haitians whom I represented pro bono publico in asylum claims: Georges Zamor, Robert Jean Marcellus, Abner Bruce and Freddy Fleurimond.
It was not as much my ability that saved these individuals as it was my mere willingness to represent them. For at least two of them, the cases were almost self-evident; I used newspaper articles and reports from the United States Department of State to substantiate their claims of 'a well-founded fear of persecution.'
Freddy Fleurimond is my latest client. On Nov. 21, 2000, he was granted asylum, pending his fingerprinting and background check and the possibility of appeal by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Fleurimond, who was born in Port au Prince, Haiti, fled his homeland after officers of the Haitian National Police shot up his home in an attempt to assassinate him on Jan. 28, 2000.
Haiti is an extremely poor country, with a per capita annual income of around $400. A small elite controls much of the country's wealth. Members of the Haitian National Police commit extrajudicial killings. Credible reports of such murder by the HNP compiled by the United Nations/Organization of American States International Civilian Mission in Haiti increased sharply in 1999. The most egregious single instance was the summary execution by officers of the HNP (from its subgroup known as CIMO) in the presence of the Port-au-Prince police chief of 11 men on May 28, 1999, in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles. (1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democrary, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Feb. 25, 2000, pp. 1 and 2.)
Fleurimond is a fair model of those Haitians who live among us in Portland. He stands about 5 feet 6 inches tall and is well groomed, polite, hard-working and soft spoken. Although Haitian Creole is his native tongue, he also speaks French well and is making great strides in learning English. Until Jan. 28, 2000, he was a student who lived with his parents and siblings in Carrefour Roi Ne, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In 1997, having become outraged by the lawless behavior of appointed and elected officials in Haiti, Fleurimond joined with his childhood friends Jiji Alexandre and Jean Yves Gaston and became card-carrying members of L'Association des Jeunes de Carrefour (The Association of the Youth of Crossroadstown). Essentially just a group of about 10 young people from his neighborhood, they circulated flyers urging citizens to vote for certain individuals running for magistrate and other political offices.
Fleurimond, along with Alexandre and Gaston, also wrote anti-government graffiti on walls. After the massacre at Carrefour-Feuille, the three passed out flyers and posted graffiti on walls declaring that 'CIMO is a bunch of imbeciles' and that, 'instead of protecting the people, CIMO is attacking us.'
Fleurimond believes that sometime in 1999, people affiliated with political party ruling Haiti identified him and his friends to officers of CIMO. In late 1999, Gaston and Alexandre disappeared. Fleurimond was told by acquaintances that CIMO had killed both Gaston and Alexandre. In any event, Fleurimond never again saw Gaston and Alexandre, friends who Fleurimond had seen daily for most of his life.
For weeks, Fleurimond had to play 'cat and mouse' with CIMO. This deadly game ended Jan. 28, 2000, when CIMO came to Fleurimond's home and Fleurimond fled from a hale of bullets. Fleurimond hid for some time in a rural area called Leoganne outside Port-au-Prince and then stowed away on the vessel M/V Tyr for passage to the United States. On Feb. 4, 2000, M/V Tyr docked in Port Everglades, Florida, the commercial port of Miami. Fleurimond, after hiding in the bow below deck and living on a jug of water and three biscuits, debarked from the docked ship and was immediately arrested by the INS.
That same day, Fleurimond was examined by the INS under oath at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Later, on Feb. 17, 2000, he was examined by the INS at KROME; and an INS official found that Fleurimond had a 'credible fear of persecution.' Eventually Fleurimond found his way to Portland, Oregon, under the sponsorship of the Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees.
SOAR, a program of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and affiliated with the Church World Service Refugee Settlement Network, for about a decade has, among its other roles, sponsored Haitian asylum applicants in Portland. In late 1991, I recall SOAR soliciting Oregon lawyers, including me, to render legal services for its Haitian program and training us to handle asylum cases. In early March 2000, I was therefore not surprised when I received a call from Joel Lieberman at SOAR to represent Fleurimond.
SOAR is not the only agency which furnished me with resources. The director of the Immigration Counseling Service, attorney Susan Rossiter, gave me model forms to use and allowed me to use her offices to meet with my client.
In addition, ICS's receptionist, Kathryn Lavenne, who is fluent in French, assisted me in communicating with my client. I can get by in French, but not at the level which the asylum proceedings require. (Having a good translator is essential, because the interpreter can tell you the cultural context not simply the words which your client uses to communicate with you.)
Equally important, I had the able assistance of a seasoned Portland immigration attorney, Teresa Statler. Statler met with me and my client a week before the contested hearing; and played the role of the INS attorney as she cross-examined Fleurimond on the weaknesses of his case. She prepared me as well by reviewing my pretrial statement, recommending supplementary documentation and offering me historical background for my later court filings.
So when I walked into the courtroom to present my client's case, I had with me the generous support of many individuals. All of that assistance was given without cost to me or my client. It is, of course, important that lawyers give their time and talents for the good of the public. I was first motivated to represent Haitians because I thought their causes were worthy. I later developed another reason. The INS itself mistreats people. Witness: the headline from The Oregonian on Dec. 11, 2000, 'INS bureaucracy [and] blundering create 'the Agency from Hell.''
Like my client Fleurimond, we as citizens should be willing to shoulder the responsibility of resisting bad actions by our government. At the same time, we as lawyers also have the duty as officers of the court to use our skills to correct wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed and welcome the foreigner to our country.
The certificate which I received from SOAR reminds
me daily of that sacred mission: 'For I was a stranger and
you welcomed me in.'
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is a partner of Myles & Myles in Portland, where he is engaged in civil trial practice with an emphasis on construction, business and employment litigation. He is currently the chair of the OSB Lawyer Referral & Modest Means Committee. A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, he is licensed in Washington and Illinois.
© 2002 Kevin Myles