Forward by Lea Reiter
Not only have I known Mike for seven years, but I’ve known him well for those years. We met at the Tribune Company where we both worked selling advertising, and I broke my own code by dating a co-worker. I couldn’t resist the charm of a man who can break into song at any given moment, or consistently make me laugh. (He had me at “L is for the way you look at me..”)
It was 2002 when he first told me his bizarre deportation story. Surely I thought this whole matter would get settled in time. You know … truth, justice, and the American way. Never did it occur to me that his battle was against all odds or that the Justice Department makes no allowances for logic.
I was not prepared for the battle against the Federal government, nor was I prepared for the toll it would take on Mike, a man who hasn’t slept through the night in all the years I’ve known him. We watched the New York Times documentary together, about Kabul resident Zablon Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan. Despite the isolation, he remains in Afghanistan; with one Jew left, the Taliban can’t claim victory. Mike knows how Simantov feels.
Mike is on his fourth Attorney General. He’s filed thousands of pages of motions, petitions, briefs and rebuttals. And now he’s ready to share his story.
How I Came to be an Enemy of the State ... Mike Burrows
I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My dad worked for a division of Capitol Records. He received a transfer to Los Angeles, got permanent resident visas for the whole family and when I was two years eleven months old, we moved to the States. I grew up in Glendale, California, where I said the pledge of allegiance, played baseball, and lived like any American. Except for a first grade teacher who told me I could never be President, I thought I was just like everybody else. In high school, I played guitar in a band, played first base for the jv then varsity baseball team. All in all, I was living an American life.
Shortly after high school, I was convicted of misdemeanor receipt of stolen goods (the alleged stolen property was a $50 8track tape deck, like the one your dad had in his Oldsmobile). I really wasn't guilty of the offense, but in a misguided act of adolescent loyalty to a friend of dubious morality, I plead not guilty, went to trial (with the worst public defender ever) and somehow was convicted of misdemeanor receipt of stolen property (the $50 8 track tape deck). I was 18 years old, on my own, and without any support system (that's another story).
The judge didn't like the fact that I wouldn't give my friend up so he let me have it as hard as he could, considering I had never had any other offenses or dealings with the law. He fined me $500 dollars (a lot of money in 1978) gave me 3 years of formal probation and a 365 day sentence in the Los Angeles County Jail. The sentence was suspended, unless I should get into anymore trouble during my three year probationary period. I did not; and had the case expunged from the record some 5 years later in 1983.
Fast forward to Oct 11th, 2001 (1 month to the day from 9/11). I'm 5 years into my second marriage. My first one ended amicably and we share a healthy happy 19 year old college student son. However, my second marriage is also about to end (to my surprise at the time), and it's not going to end amicably. Toward the end, my second wife began doing some very strange things. A devout Catholic all of her life, she and I agreed to send my two stepdaughters as well as the daughter we had together to the same parochial school that my wife and her mother had attended.
One day I returned home from work and was greeted by my son and my two stepdaughters. My oldest stepdaughter (12 at the time and the boldest of the lot) asked me in an almost breathless voice "Daddy...is Satan in us?” The rest of my children stared intently at me waiting for an answer. Unprepared for a question like the one before me, and a little more than shocked, I stammered out something to the effect of "Well....God no...Of course not...why would you ask that?” The answer floored me. I can still feel it now, the same way you remember being struck with an object larger than yourself …something like a refrigerator or a car. I can still feel the horror. "Mommy put her hands on all our heads and told Satan to get out of our bodies".
The others looked at each other for assurance and nodded in agreement. Later on, my wife would admit to doing this numerous times behind my back as well as breaking a family heirloom she claimed was filled with "demon spirits which were yellow and flew out of the statue of The Virgin Mary as she smashed it with a hammer".
All this was at the urging of the new fundamentalist Christians she had befriended, and for whom she was now neglecting my children and me. She was now a 5 to 7 night-a- week attendee at a small church where people routinely spoke in tongues and performed other minor "miracles". I objected. Her response was to "rebuke me in the name of Jesus". Shortly thereafter I was served a restraining order with my name on it ordering me to have no contact with my wife, my children and her family, and to stay away from my 5 bedroom house.
Of course she drained the bank accounts and sold all my best possessions. When I called her mother's house the afternoon before we were to go to Family Court, I left her a gentle message asking her to please meet me at our son's soccer practice, so we might talk before going to court. Her response was to have me arrested for breaching the restraining order by leaving the message on her mom's phone. I was arrested in front of my son and all his friends at his soccer practice as she knew I would be.
Oh, did I mention her stepbrother who was now living with my 3 little girls and young son was a convicted child molester? It caught me by surprise as well. Luckily, while I was in county jail serving out a sentence for the aforementioned breach of a court order, his molesting career (which I was to later find out was still active) was cut short when he was caught dealing methamphetamine to an undercover cop. As it was his “third strike”, he now resides permanently in the care of the California Department of Corrections. Apparently, someone had gotten wind of his "small business" and turned him in. I was of course heartbroken…
Unfortunately for me, my arrest put me on the former INS radar and I was ordered to appear and ultimately found removable. However, it wasn’t the embarrassing and hurtful fracas my second marriage had dissolved into that made me removable in the eyes of the Immigration courts; it was the 365 day suspended sentence from my 1978 conviction. The one I had expunged in 1983.
The new IIRIRA laws, that went in to effect in 1996 were now being used retroactively against me (18 years after my misdemeanor conviction), and because my misdemeanor conviction included a 365 day suspended sentence I would now be seen as an aggravated felon in the eyes of the Immigration courts as well as the BIA et al., and sentenced as such. This is on top of the fact that I’m being tried on the same charge twice. The DHS gets around the double jeopardy laws by trying cases like mine as “Civil Cases”. Civil cases with Draconian penalties, like being taken away from everything you’ve ever known or loved since you were three years old, including my children, my elderly parents, my brother, stepsister, nieces and nephews, as well as my girlfriend of 7 years. I know no one in Canada and have no conscious memories of Canada.
I never got my American citizenship because frankly, I never felt like anything but an American, and the Permanent Residence Visa does say “Permanent” on it. Silly me.
The Immigration judge’s hands were tied. He was bound by his Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Actually, the judge himself was a really great guy. I must say, I thought he was very thoughtful, wise, patient and compassionate. In short, I liked him a great deal. During the course of my removal hearings he repeatedly told me that If it were in his power he would grant me relief, and that I should go to the original court I had the 1978 conviction in and try to persuade the judge to take 1 day off my sentence so he could grant me relief .
What he hadn’t mentioned is that it’s nearly impossible to open a case that was expunged 25 years ago, and then get a District Attorney and a judge to grant you a Writ of Error Coram Nobis (righting a wrong, in this case I was waaaay over-sentenced in my 1978 conviction ). It would literally take a miracle, if in fact you could ever get it done.
It took me a couple of years and some great people on both sides of the Superior Court, but I got the conviction vacated and plead to a lesser non-deportable misdemeanor. However, getting the Board of Immigration Appeals to acknowledge the lower court ruling would be the real battle. I thought I'd won the war. But I'd just won the first of many battles to come.
PART 2: A Sacrificial Goat ...
It may not be lost on you, the reader, that I kind of breezed over my stays in various jails and detention centers. It ended with a miserable stay (as they all are) at the Mira Loma Federal Immigration Detention Center in Lancaster, CA.
Where to start? Well, as I mentioned earlier, I was in the “wrapping it up” phase of my second marriage. As stated, there was a conflict concerning religious beliefs (I’m Judeo-Christian-Agnostic and she’s Crazy).
My lawyer… ahem (divorce lawyer that is, I’ve had one divorce lawyer, one criminal lawyer, a public defender/dump truck, and myself acting as a pro se in immigration court and the 9th Circuit). As I was saying, my lawyer and I were in for a bigger shock when we asked for a copy of the restraining order filed by my wife to which the clerk responded, “Which one?” Apparently she had some experience filling out the forms needed to obtain a protection order.
My lawyer later provided me with a copy of the restraining order filed against me, and a copy of the exact same order she filed in the exact same court against her first husband. The complaint filed against me (the reason for requesting the order) was eerily similar (read that virtually identical) to the complaint she had written 6 years earlier against her first husband.
Worse yet, there was (according to my attorney) a third protection order that was several years old and permanently sealed, which made it impossible for us to view. I can only imagine what must have happened to that poor bastard (more on that later). Honestly, I’d done nothing … but things weren’t looking good for me.
Then I did something really stupid.
I broke down and called her mom’s house the night before we were to go to court. No one answered, and against my better judgment, I left a brief message (well aware of my precarious position) and very gently requested that she please come and speak with me at my son’s soccer practice. Hindsight being 20/20, I’d have to say that was a mistake.
I was arrested for violation of a court order (leaving the message) about 15 minutes after arriving with my young son at the park. The cop was holding a picture of me and my son that used to reside on my mother-in-law’s mantle.
Yeah, I know, it was stupid. What can I say… it was my first (and to this day, only) restraining order. It had been forty something days since I’d seen my wife or kids and I was a little fuzzy on the etiquette/law. I certainly don’t think I’d violated the spirit of the order by leaving a benign message on her mother’s answering machine. I plead guilty to violation of a court order rather than spend a year (according to my public defender/dump truck) in jail fighting it. Lesson learned.
Did I mention that my second wife was able to manipulate/stall/defy the Family court system? Because of my impending Removal Order, I have been unable to secure my court ordered right of visitation of my daughter for 8 years, despite having spent a year and a half in the Ventura, CA. Family court system. This was the same court that issued the restraining order that put me in jail. Unfortunately for me, the only family court order that the Ventura Sheriff’s department/Family court will enforce is a protection order. Just like the one I got arrested on.
As of this moment my second wife has been in willful violation of at least eight court orders, (ordered seven or eight years ago) including a psych evaluation that my attorney and I requested and the court granted.
She was in a precarious position; if she’d shown up for the court ordered psych evaluation, she would have to be either sane, or insane. It was a loser for her either way. If deemed sane then she would have to explain to the Federal government years of disability payments based on her mental illness. If deemed insane, then she held little hope of winning a custody battle. However, this was after she had me jailed, and the court apparently viewed me as someone with impulse control problems. In my absence (remember, I was in jail) the court granted my ex wife a three year restraining order against me, not to include my daughter, Holly.
It really didn’t come as a huge surprise. In fact, at this point (about 45 days after receiving the restraining order) I had come to accept that I was not dealing with a “normal” person. I was to find out later that she (my second wife) had a “borderline personality” and (unbeknownst to me) had been collecting mental disability the entire time we were married. She’d been receiving the checks from the Federal government at her mother’s house. Gee … big surprise, her “mommy,” or the “Dark Overlord” as I referred to her is “in on it” too.
In order to see my daughter I would, in effect, have to violate the restraining order that I had previously been arrested on. I never again violated the order. It’s been eight years. My daughter was 3 the last time I saw her … she’s 11 now. I think of her everyday.
Part 3: The Pokey ...
Oh right…I drifted off my stay in jails/detention centers. I thought you should know something about how I got there in order to better appreciate my stay with various branches of the government.
Once arrested, I was held in Ventura County Jail until I pled guilty to the aforementioned “violation of a court order”. I got 45 days plus 3 years formal probation and I forget how much they fined me. I was court ordered to attend anger management 3 hours a week for 52 weeks with a room full of violent wife beating psychos. At the direction of our “counselor” I related my story to the “class”. At the break one of my “classmates” questioned me with regard to my claim about not having “beat on my wife”. I assured him that I had never even been accused of having beat my wife and that my statement in class was indeed true. He looked at me as though I were the stupidest human on the face of the earth and said, “ Dumbshit... You shoulda beaten the shit out of her...You'da got the same thang”. This was my first of 52 classes. Once a week, 3 hours per class, for 52 weeks.
But to even get to this point I had get out of jail and out of Federal detention. After serving out my time in Ventura County I was shipped to Los Angeles County where I would languish in one of the worst jails in the country for a month or so. Presumably I was going to be released (or so I thought) after going to San Fernando Court on an old traffic bench warrant (that was later dismissed) . It had been 2 months in jail, my life was (and would remain) in shambles. And then suddenly in that dark dungeon they call L.A. County Jail, a beam of light, they call my name and jailhouse number, I’m to be released. What I didn’t know was that I was going to be released into the custody of ICE and transported to their Detention Center at Lancaster. I was given a pink piece of paper that said my bail was $10,000.00. Even a bond would be expensive. My father put up the cash. Later on ICE would strong- arm the bonding company out of the money leaving me where I am now, with no bail, appealing my romovability in the 9th Circuit and wondering when the shoe is going to drop.
This is how I live my every day, wondering when ICE is going to kick the door in and drop me off at the nearest detention center (again). I’ve imagined it happening so many times in my mind; I couldn’t begin to count how many. I suppose I’m trying to desensitize myself for when the real thing happens. But the dread is worse than the actual tragedy I fear. And there is no escaping yourself.
Federal Detention Centers Suck. There. I said it. There is just nothing to get happy about at one of these places. The reason I mention this is because I spent a month or so in the one at Lancaster, CA. To say it was not a pleasant experience is like saying the Empire State Building is a “big house”. The “processing in” takes days, to weeks, to months, to years, to …? Rest assured valued reader, you will not enjoy it should you ever have the misfortune to experience it (or any other form of Federal detention). Being out on bail is not much different than being in detention except that you can (supposedly) better defend your case and you get to actually watch life pass you buy and see your dreams fade first hand vs. thinking about your life crumbling from a cell. Either way.
I was lucky. I got out (for now). Many of the people I met had been in detention for years with no bail, no court date, no charges, and no idea of when they were going to get out, if ever. It makes for a pretty moody atmosphere as you might well imagine. I don’t think most people can appreciate what this kind of uncertainty does to people. It makes them hopeless, desperate, volatile and most of all, angry. I don’t blame the government for not wanting to let the hostages at Guantanamo go. If they weren’t anti-American terrorist killers when they got there, they will be by the time they leave. Count on it.
Once I got out of Federal detention I knew how the people that survived Hiroshima must have felt. Everything I had ever known or loved was gone. My oldest son (from my previous marriage) was living with my father whom I had made arrangements with prior to being arrested in case of just what happened (Thank you Dad). Business, gone. House, gone. Wife and children, for all practical purposes, also gone. Dignity? Self-esteem? Reputation? Do I even need to say?
Part 4: The Aftermath ...
My divorce lawyer and all around great guy died unexpectedly, although not altogether unexpected to those of us that knew him best, about a year and a half into my Family Court action. Marty had been working at a fraction of what he was normally paid, and stayed on my case until his passing. Marty himself had gone through a bad divorce and resulting custody battle that he won, but never really recovered from, and though he never said it, I always believed that’s why he stood by me, regardless of what my finances were. His life insurance company questioned whether Marty’s death was a suicide, quietly.. so did his friends. I’m ashamed to say that when he died my first thoughts were selfish, thinking what a bad omen it seemed like for me. I live with myself, and that moment, by telling myself that my survival instinct took over. He was a good guy; and I and many others miss him.
Sometimes I envy Marty. It’s ironic since, as a lawyer, Marty would be better equipped to fight this case if he were me. I certainly wouldn’t wish that on my dear departed friend. In fact, if I could change places with him, I question whether or not he might curse my grave for putting him in this position.
My son was 11 when this whole drama started to unfold, and I used to pray that I would be able to at least stall the process (if not overcome it) until he entered college. Having done that, (my son is 19 and attending college) I now find myself in the unenviable position of trying to find life events about which to pray for not being deported until.(?) I’m not sure how to even say it, it’s so complex, much less how to ask God for it. It’s certainly not anything they ask you about on any government form I’ve seen. It’s gotten so I look forward to weekends, not because I’m off two days from work (any career I might have had has been destroyed), but because I’m pretty sure ICE doesn’t work on weekends.
Note: my girlfriend just informed me that they do work on weekends. So much for that. My fear is now constant.
When I hear these stories (the few that you do hear) or I read them in the paper, or on the web, I’m often struck by the fact that these people usually have a big support system, i.e. families, churches, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU, etc or somebody backing their play. What you don’t hear about are people like me who don’t have any support system, except themselves and nothing will end a career like a life and death battle with the Department of Homeland Security. People like me who never even considered themselves immigrants are in a particularly vulnerable position in that we don’t see it coming and we have no clue what we’re in for.
In short, persons who as LPR’s thought they were protected by the Constitution in the same manner all Americans are protected by the Constitution, are not. The world is full of false assumptions about how “legal” and “illegal” immigrants are treated and what rights they have. To confuse matters further, all the rules have changed (in particular new laws retroactively applied see IIRIRA). And all the old assumptions that were correct, are no longer correct due to the aforementioned changes of law that are being retroactively applied. Confusing, huh? Don’t feel stupid if you have to re-read this a few times.
It would take a very large book to tell this whole story and then I’m still not sure anyone could really understand the horror and the uncertainty unless they lived it. But that’s the crux of what it does to you. It separates you from your life, you loved ones and any shred of tranquility or peace of mind that you may have once had a shot at. I live in constant fear. My finances are so bad I’d rather spare myself and the reader from having to suffer through an accounting. I’m 50 as of a few months ago. My 40’s were wasted on this still unresolved nightmare. I fall farther and farther in to the pit everyday, both financially and spiritually. With a few exceptions the people that were and should be close to me tend to avoid me, including my 19 year old son. My few remaining friends (including his mother, my first wife) tell me it’s just how they are at his age. I am left to wonder.
As I mentioned earlier, I have fought my federal case almost entirely on my own. My only resources are whatever I can scrounge up and the internet. I’ve held them off for 9 years, 4 attorney generals, 10 or so OIL Prosecutors and countless IJ /ICE proceedings. I’ve written more motion/briefs/appeals than I can count. I have spent the better part of 9 years dedicating my life to this. I’m getting really tired of matching wits with federal prosecutors. They have unlimited resources and it’s not life or death to them as it is to me. They go home and (I’m sure) think of other things, secure in the knowledge that the awesome force that is the American Federal Government will not be used against them. In a compartmentalized branch of the government like immigration, most do not understand the tyranny they support: the BIA and OIL does understand and are continually ratcheting it up in a bid for yet more power over immigrants.
As of this writing I just received legal notice the Fed’s (OIL) have removed one of the 4 attorneys assigned to my case (real fair, huh?), I sit in breathless anticipation of who will replace her. I’ll wager it’s a heartless bureaucrat with no common sense or respect for the letter or spirit of the law. Lucky guess, I suppose.
What I've learned about myself, life and about how the dark side of this government operates in broad daylight would take volumes.
I will tell you the scariest part:
The Machine operates as designed. Got it? The Machine operates as designed. Remember what I said in the first paragraph..."The first thing you must understand is that they're not singling me out; this is how the process works". Once you get on the immigration merry-go-round, you are in the machine and you will only leave the machine if a higher court orders it so (and then pray it holds up when the Government surely appeals any immigrant’s favorable ruling). This will be a daunting all-consuming endeavor which you (as I am) are likely to lose. Certainly you will be ruined in the process if you survive it. I often question whether I will.