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Immigration attorney makes plea for pro bono help at Columbian Lawyers meeting

February 9, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dean Delianites, president of the Columbian Lawyers, with Michael P. DiRaimondo, who spoke about immigration at the monthly meeting this Tuesday. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

Immigration has become one of the hottest topics in the legal community as a result of the recent actions of President Donald Trump, so the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn’s continuing legal education (CLE) seminar that was held in Dyker Heights on Tuesday couldn’t have been better timed.

Michael P. DiRaimondo, an immigration attorney at DiRaimondo & Masi, LLP, and a former special assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York spoke. In his hour-long seminar, he described the immigration process, the laws pertaining to it and even advocated for attorneys to work pro bono to help out in some of the immigration cases going on.

“We had a very big turnout tonight, larger than usual, and I think a lot of that is because of the topic and what’s going on in the news,” said Dean Delianites, president of the Columbian Lawyers. “People want to hear about immigration and learn more than they read in the newspaper or see on TV. We hear these words banned and detained and you don’t really know what that means.

“We really learned a lot this evening and I think maybe we’ll get some people here to do some pro bono immigration work because they’re interested.”

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DiRaimondo opened his talk by pointing out that the figure often quoted in the news — that there are 10 to 11 million people in the U.S. illegally — is likely wrong and estimated that it is closer to 25 to 30 million. He then explained how the U.S. currently operates with deportation proceedings and most were shocked to hear how backed up the system is.

“We presently have 100k active deportation cases in the New York office,” DiRaimondo said. “I am scheduling hearings, trials, for 2019 and 2020. I crack jokes with some of the judges because I say, ‘I hope I’m alive when this trial comes up.’”

“I’m telling you right now that the 30 million people aren’t going anywhere,” he continued. “They’re just not. We don’t have the capability. We have 40 immigration judges in New York with 100,000 active cases. They’re not going anywhere. If he wants to add one million people to the docket in the U.S., it’s not going to happen. To add 10 million it would bring us to a standstill. He would have to triple the amount of judges and prosecutors. Where would we get the jails? We don’t have enough jails. It’s a major problem.”

He also explained the rights of people trying to come into the U.S. who have never been here, who have the right to limited due process and do not have full rights under the constitution, versus those who have already established permanent residency, who have full rights under the constitution.

“Under the executive branch, I think he has the power to exclude certain groups,” DiRaimondo said. “I don’t agree with the ban, but this is what I think as a former prosecutor for the Department of Justice that this is a viable power that he has. He is the sole person in charge of the immigration service. It’s going to be interesting to see what the court does but there is a real problem with standing to sue.”

DiRaimondo then went on to explain how former President Barack Obama changed the immigration system and what he expects will change under the Trump administration. He pointed out that the biggest change may be to take away “prosecutorial discretion,” which gave prosecutors a way to make certain cases low priority if the people involved in the deportation proceedings had relatives who were U.S. citizens.

After the talk, DiRaimondo took questions from the room and when he was asked about the opportunities from pro bono work, he made a plea to the attorneys in the room to help out.

“Right now we’re experiencing a surge of children under 18 who are coming across the border because they heard a wall is going to be built,” DiRaimondo said. “So right now, they are looking for people [to help with pro bono work]. They’ll train you to do asylum cases, kids cases, so if you are interested in doing pro bono work, please talk to me because we currently don’t have enough attorneys for the workload.”

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