November, 1998 + San Juan, Texas
We had taken on a new line of cases. They were filed with the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) on behalf of undocumented women who suffered abuse at the hands of a documented spouse or male partner. These men regularly mistreated these women, who were unable to work and had no 'right' to be in the U.S. When the women tried to leave the relationship, the male threatened to call the INS to get her deported. This was a fearsome prospect, so many women remained in abusive relationships, no matter how bad. The INS handled these cases with compassion. The law allowed our clients to remain in the U.S. pending the outcome of their court cases. If successful, the woman would receive a card that allowed her and her children to stay and her to work.
As the case proceeded, we gathered documents and photographs, questioned witnesses, prepared filings, and, in general, handled these cases much like others of a similar nature. We had success with these cases, winning them all. The women would come to our office to receive the fruits of our efforts. Unabashed hugging, sobbing, and thanking lit up our homely office. Some gave us homemade gifts, such as Tres Leches (literally three milks) cakes, which is reserved for special occasions.
In one such case file, a one of a kind document came to my attention and left me stupefied. I wondered whether I had been lawyering too long. At least one case too long.
I had been practicing law for fourteen years by this time, in courts federal, state, county, city, and local. I had addressed many government agencies, school boards, committees, and assemblies. I was a seasoned, experienced attorney who had read reams and reams of case law, commentary, briefs, discovery responses, motions, and party and witness statements. None of these writings was anywhere near the statement in question.
The document had been prepared by another attorney during litigation in another suit in a different court; it was therefore a matter of public record. In that case, my client had sought custody of her and her husband's children. In a sworn statement, she gave several reasons why she, and not her spouse, deserved custody.
Paraphrasing one such reason in the court filing about which I write, the document stated, "I seek custody of my children because i caught my husband Juan having sex with our family dog." reason enough, one would think.
At the risk of appearing overly titillated or lurid, I feel I must discuss this occurrence. Imagine the scenario, if you have the stomach. Our client, a solid and loving, maternal woman prepares to open the door to the room of the marital couch. She calls her spouse to come to supper, "Juan, supper is ready."
She opens the bedroom door. She sees the situation set forth above in all its hideous and rather objectionable reality.
Now imagine you are Juan. What can you possibly say to save the day? "Honey, Fido means nothing to me", or "It's Fido's fault", or "I was just trying to make you jealous". Have there ever been any words in any language in the entire history of the human family, to excuse or justify what Juan (and Fido) are doing?
What else could Juan say or do? Perhaps he could admonish poor Fido. "You're a very bad doggie", or punish him or her, "Fido, we can't let you do this again. From now on you're sleeping outside." Send Fido away? Get a cat? Sorry Juan, there's simply no way out.
The Project made this case a high priority. We succeeded.
The more I thought about it and pictured Juan and Fido, the more I wondered whether I had chosen the wrong line of work.