Friday, December 26, 2008

The ¨Why¨ part...

I actually have lots of reasons for wanting to do it. But first and foremost, I have always been interested in the military. I am a bit of a military history buff. My earliest memories of this are of the Sunday morning movies...the black and white WWII movies that came on exactly 1 hour before 11:ooam Mass. I never got to see the end of those movies as we always went to the 11am Mass...

I am sure that the Boy Scouts also helped. Scouting played a fairly big part of my early teens. Of special note was my first canoeing trip to Grayling, Michigan. The troop stayed on a US Army base for the week. The canoeing was great, but I think eating in the mess hall made the biggest impression on me. Dad was instrumental in that. I have many fond memories of the scouts.

Another thing was the fact that both Grandpa Gildea and Grandpa Gorman served during WWII. Neither spoke much of their experiences, but I always sensed a profound sense of pride in them on the subject. It was obvious that they enjoyed their time in the service. I remember trying on Grandpa Gildea's Navy uniform when I was in high school and it fit perfectly.

I even took a year's worth of ROTC courses at Xavier. But I never took it seriously.

For the past 5 years, I have worked for 2 refugee resettlement agencies. In this time, I have met people from nearly every country in the world. Many of them were refugees. In my first 2 years as a staff attorney, more than half of my clients were Cambodians who had survived the ¨killing fields¨ and been resettled in the US. Over the next 3 years, I met refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Cuba, Colombia, just to name a few. Their stories of survival are incredible. The dream of liberty and safety in the US is so very real to them. Those of us born here take so much for granted.

This past July, I won a political asylum trial for a woman from the Congo. Her story is horrific, but is so common to so many. It only took 3 hours to convince an immigration judge to grant her political asylum. Her husband was a local political activist, she was a seamstress with a small business making uniforms. One night, government agents came to her house, dragged her husband into the street and shot him in the leg. She feinted. She awoke in a hospital (a neighbor had taken her there). She proceeded to go to the local detention centers in search of her husband. She found the one where he had been taken. While asking for him, she was arrested and thrown into a cell. For the next 2 days, she was beaten and raped. She was told that her husband was dead (he had been killed earlier in the same facility). After the 2 days of torture, she was let go by a sympathetic guard. She hid her 2 children with a priest and, with his assistance, fled to the US and became a client of Catholic Charities in 1999. Because of a series of administrative screw-ups by the Border Patrol, it took us 9 years to get her case to trial. I was the third and final Charities lawyer on the case.

Frankly, after seeing a similar pattern repeated over and over again by various tyrants, I feel a need to be involved in an additional capacity...I am hoping that through the JAG Corps, I might get the chance to seek justice against those who commit these crimes, in addition to seeking safety and stability in the US for the victims of these crimes. It may be naive of me to think that I can accomplish this in the US Army, but I don't see many (any) other places to try. But I need to try.

However, in the near-term, I expect that my experience as an immigration lawyer will be predominantly used by the Army as there are many foreign-born (somewhere around 4% of the US Army...more than 18,000 soldiers) members. Most of them will be trying to become US citizens and many will have family members with a variety of immigration issues.

I could go on and on ad nauseum, but I think you get my drift...I am very hopeful that an Obama administration will use the military (and I guess that now includes ¨me¨!) more wisely. I think we should be in Sudan rather than Iraq, but that is for a different and more political post...

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