I currently attend Rutgers Law School in Newark and I work at the Law Office of Eric M. Mark, an Immigration law firm in Jersey City, NJ. As a law student, I find this type of work extremely rewarding because it allows me to assist people in such a critical time in their lives. If any of you reading this right now are considering going to law school, I say stop reading and go! Law school allows you to meet great new people, build your career, expand your knowledge on the law, and, of course, begin actually practicing law.
I love working in immigration law because it provides me with the comforting knowledge that I am helping people from around the world seek a new and improved life in this country. I like to think of America as a lighthouse which shines upon those lost at sea, i.e., people from other countries who are facing extreme hardship and persecution. I like to think of myself as someone who is on the beaches assisting people to their feet once they follow the guidance of the lighthouse and make it ashore. Working for an immigration firm which specializes in asylum allows me the opportunity to assist people to their feet the moment they arrive in this country.
Our office helps families and individuals from all over the world gain asylum status. I’ve worked on cases that involved people from Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, and Cuba. Right now, I am working on an interesting asylum case which could drastically improve the lives of a particular Cuban family. I want to share this story with you today.
Before I share our client’s immigration story, I wanted to share my personal experience having been in Cuba a few months ago. Cuba was an enlightening experience for me because it was my first time visiting a communist country. When I visited Havana, Cuba in May 2019, I saw first-hand how the citizens live. For the most part, Havana is a wonderful place with friendly people, filled with a rich and vibrant culture. Music and street art line the tiny cobblestone streets. The buildings are painted magnificent pastel colors and you can hear salsa music around every corner. However, I was saddened to see most of the inner-city homes are literally falling apart. The houses are riddled with holes in the concrete, electric wiring is openly exposed to the elements, and some have only dirt floors. Most of their appliances, kitchen or otherwise, are also severely outdated and frequently broken.
As a tourist looking around Havana, the contradiction between the harrowing conditions and the vibrancy of the people walking around the streets, buying food, shopping, enjoying Mojito’s, and dancing at the nightclubs was hard to square. In spite of what I saw, they were living under a communist regime and subject to a reality I have never known.
Fast forward a few months and our immigration firm is working to help a Cuban national seek asylum in this country. Our client is seeking asylum in order to escape the politically oppressive Cuban communist government. We, as Americans, have historically seen the ramifications of the communist regime via the wave of Cuban migrants fleeing the island in their attempt for a new life in the United States. While the situation has improved over the decades, Cubans to this day are still fleeing the island by any means they can find.
A majority of Cuban immigrants settle in warm and sunny Miami, Florida. There are over 734,000 Cubans in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area. In fact, there is a neighborhood in Miami called “Little Havana”, which is home to many Cuban exiles and immigrants. They have opened businesses in Little Havana and the streets are filled with Cuban art and fruit vendors.
However, not all Cubans are able to choose the warm sunny beaches of Miami to settle after leaving their home island. Some Cubans have re-located to the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area. This is where my immigration firm comes in. Our client is a Cuban citizen who has a long and adversarial history with the Cuban government. I am eager to be able to help someone escape a communist government and find solace in a free country.
The Cuban government is notorious for confiscating personal property and closing private businesses. In 1968, then President Fidel Castro closed down approximately 55,000 small businesses, virtually eliminating all private property. Our client’s family has unfortunately fallen victim to their own government’s pillaging of its own people. Their property was confiscated and they were forced to shut down their business.
Our client’s father, uncle, and grandfather vocally expressed their frustration and opposition to the government. In doing so, the government labeled them “political opponents” and jailed them, one-by-one. To be in a Cuban jail under a charge of political treason is severe. Prisoners are often required to work 12-hours per day and are punished if they do not meet production quotas. Ultimately, our client’s grandfather was killed by the Cuban police. His grandfather’s death has motivated our client to refuse, resist, and rebel against the government. Our client was determined to honor his family, past and present, by defying the communist orders of the government.
As an American myself, I was unaware of the concept of a “pro-government rally”. We never have such an event in this country, and I imagine if we did, they certainly would not be mandatory for the citizens to attend. However, in Cuba, they are mandatory. The government issues citations and fines if someone does not attend. Our client refused to attend these rallies out of principle and honor to his late grandfather. In return, he was issued numerous citations, each time he was taken into police custody, where he was refused food, and was subject to mental torture. Luckily, he was underage (under 18) during all the times he was in police custody and, therefore, the police could not imprison him for prolonged periods of time. But once he turned 18, everything changed.
In Cuba, juveniles are not subject to prison sentences for political opposition. All the citations that our client received for non-appearance at the rallies, he received when he was a juvenile. Our client knew that once he turned 18, the Cuban government would come through on their threats and continued harassment of his family and place him in prison which, in turn, prompted him to leave as soon as he turned 18.
A granting of asylum status allows people who are fearful of persecution upon return to their native country, to remain in the United States. To assist someone receiving asylum status is a humbling and rewarding experience. As a law student, this assistance takes the form of collecting documents, evidence, and other materials which prove to an immigration judge that our client will be persecuted if he is forced to return to Cuba. Fortunately, there is weighty evidence which proves that political prisoners are imprisoned and tortured at the hands of the Cuban government.
As of right now, the case is still pending. Hopefully our client will be able to enjoy life here in America free from political oppression and persecution. I wanted to share this story with you as it is a snapshot of the importance of Asylum law and shows the rewarding aspect immigration law can involve. I like the idea of representing David in his fight against Goliath. I look forward to achieving the best outcome for our client, and I will be posting again as soon as possible with any updates.
By: Justin Rucci, Rutgers Law Graduate of 2020.