Emily sat on her bed hunched over her laptop. She read her father’s text that he was safe and working hard to make enough money to find a way to return to the United States. He told her he missed her and loved her. He also apologized repeatedly for causing the situation by not having taken care of his citizenship earlier in his life.
“I should have known better,” he said to her in a private message. “I did know better, but I didn’t do what was right and as a result I’ve caused you all this pain. And, it breaks my heart to know that I’ve made you sad. I’ll never forgive myself for this. I just pray to God it’s not permanent.”
Emily wrote back that she loved her father unconditionally and that she didn’t care what happened leading up to the present day, only that she and her mother were working closely with Attorney Beckman to bring him home.
Both of their messages implied a hopefulness that neither truly believed.
As she combed her hair, the phone on her dresser buzzed with an incoming call from Ms. Singer.
“I’m so sorry to call you on the weekend,” she started. “I didn’t have your mother’s number. I wanted to let you know that Ed has a contact with that group I told you about. They’re very busy with all the craziness going on in our country right now. But Ed can arrange a meeting with his contact over a late dinner tomorrow night. I’ll text you the details. Can you pass them on to your mother?”
Emily thanked Ms. Singer and promised to relay them.
“Oh,” Ms. Singer added. “Can you text me your mother’s number as well so I can get in touch with her directly?”
Emily looked at the clock. She had to be ready for their follow-up meeting with Senator Sanchez in 20 minutes. Mr. Beckman had some new legal maneuvers to try. He had engaged the Senator to pressure some local judges to consider his new arguments and he hoped she would support the new ideas.
She could hear knocking on the front door. The firmness of the sound, echoing through the house, gave her a shiver as it evoked memories of the fateful afternoon when the INS agents barged in and flipped her life on its head.
“Hello Mr. Beckman,” she heard Britney answer the door. “Come on in.”
She walked by Ashley’s closed door. Still asleep, she could hear the rhythm of her breathing.
“Hi Rupert,” she heard her mother say in a sweet, friendly voice from somewhere in the depths of the kitchen. “Please come on in and make yourself at home.”
As much as Emily recognized Rupert’s role and appreciated his support, she still found herself muttering quietly to herself in reaction to her mother’s last comment.
“Don’t make yourself too comfortable, dude.”
The night before and earlier that morning, Stephanie tried in vain to force Emily to stay home and skip the meeting with the Senator. She said she didn’t want her daughter to hear all the details of Chuck’s unlawful misdeeds. But Emily reasoned that she already pieced together the full story around his use of fake federal and state identification from some black-market hacker.
“Why don’t you spend the long weekend at Gramma Banks’ house with your sisters?” she said. “She’s taking them for a spa day at Canyon Lake. I think you all need a weekend away.”
But Emily stuck to her guns all morning and demanded to participate in every interaction regarding her father’s fate.
“No amount of influencing, cajoling or threatening would keep her away,” Emily heard Stephanie whisper to Rupert as she quietly stole down the stairs. “I have to pick my battles. I’m already fighting a war on two fronts between Britney’s reluctance to apply to college and Ashley’s walk along the edge of wayward behavior. The last aggravation I needed is a rebellion from my youngest.”
Rupert stood in the kitchen next to Stephanie looking tall and awkward, but dapper in his jet-black suit, stark white shirt and dark purple and black tie. He visited the barber the previous evening and looked ten years younger with his hair tight to the side of his head. His flecks of gray dissipated with the trim, which prompted Stephanie to compliment his new, fresh look.
They proceeded to the car. Emily noticed Stephanie adjusting the temperature as she settled into her regular spot in Rupert’s plush front leather seat.
“I’m fine mom,” she said. “It’s not your car. He probably has it set the way he likes it.”
Stephanie didn’t respond, but moved away from the dials and folded her hands in her lap.
“What are the new legal maneuvers?” Emily asked Rupert as they cruised toward the city.
“It’s a bit procedural,” he replied, glancing through his rear-view mirror to make brief eye contact with her. “But the INS is legally required to ask your father if he had any reasonable fear for his personal safety if he were to be deported. They’re required by federal law to ask that question.”
“And they didn’t?”
“There’s no way of knowing whether they did or didn’t,” he replied.
“Then, how do we…”
“I called and couldn’t get an answer,” he anticipated Emily’s thoughts. “The Senator pulled some strings and confirmed that there is no video or written transcript, nor are there any notes that confirm they complied with the rules.”
“But, there’s no proof that they didn’t either?” Emily asked.
“Correct,” Rupert glanced into the mirror and then flashed a warm smile to Stephanie. “But we’re going to file a motion to retry your father on the grounds that he was not afforded the opportunity to present the hardship of presumed potential and imminent physical danger.”
“What does all that mean?” Emily strained to keep up with the attorney. “Can’t they just say they did and we can’t prove it.”
“We aim to put them in position where they have to prove compliance to the law, rather than the other way around. We know they can’t prove it, and we’re hoping a judge will temporarily revoke the deportation to afford your father the opportunity to be asked if he has any reasonable fear of harm if sent away.”
“And, then they’ll let him come home?” she asked. “Since they didn’t follow the rules?”
“No, they’ll likely ask him the question and try to send him back,” Rupert said. “But, since he was actually injured upon arrival, we can make a strong case that his retroactive answer can be that he does have a legitimate concern for his safety and therefore deportation would present an immediate threat to his health and well-being. With a friendly judge, it just might be enough of a long shot to have a chance.”
“Don’t get your hopes up honey,” Stephanie said, turning to look between the seats. “The chances are still very slim.”
“But we’re not going to give up,” Rupert’s enthusiasm counterbalanced Stephanie’s trepidation. “I have a few other tricks up my sleeve as well.”
Emily looked out the window and dug into her pocket for her phone.
“One last important note,” Rupert continued. “Until we know what we’re dealing with here, please make no mention of this group, ALIAS, to the Senator. I don’t know where she stands on this and we don’t need any more legal problems added to the mix. I’ll call and follow-up to learn more about them. But it’s critical that we not mention it. As far as we know, for right now, they don’t exist. Understand?”
“Uh, ok,” Emily replied, stashing her phone into her back pocket and looking out the window at the passing scenery.
Given the weekend visit, Senator Boni Sanchez met them in the lobby and escorted them to her private office where a large cherry desk faced four plush black leather chairs. Emily thrust herself into the puffy cushion and an audible gush of air exhaled in all directions with the gravity of her weight. Senator Sanchez offered them bottles of water from a hidden refrigerator before folding her hands and taking a stern posture.
She already understood Rupert’s new tactic and immediately refuted the feasibility of the argument.
“I ran it by every judge in the southeast,” she said. “Most likely, it gets thrown out by all but two or three of them. Maybe circuit judge McGiverny in Dallas gives it a chance. But even she said the best case would be to bring him up, ask him the question and ship him back. The INS will claim to have asked the question and just neglected to document it. She’d ask him the question and then we’d be right back where we started.”
“He can make the case that he’s in danger,” Rupert countered. “He’s already had a concussion and a broken arm.”
“My understanding is that there’s no documentation of concussion and according to the police report, the broken arm is the result of a drunken fall into a park bench. That won’t be enough to overcome the federal felony.”
“But once he’s here, I’ll petition for him to stay under DACA,” Rupert countered.
“He’s well over the age…”
“There’s no official birth certificate, so there’s no proof that he’s over any age whatsoever.”
“You think he can pass for thirty-something?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Rupert picked up speed. “The government can’t prove his age one way or another. If we file a motion declaring his age within the regulation, we shift the burden of proof to the government.”
The Senator leaned back in her chair and smiled a wide, hearty grin that stretched across her remarkably smooth skin for a woman in her mid-sixties. She clasped her hands moved them toward her face as if pointing a gun up her nose. Her expression wiped and she exhaled.
“Ok,” she finally said. “I can sell some of this to judge McGiverny, but you’re going to have to do something for me.”
Rupert mirrored the Senator’s body language, leaning back in his chair and looking at his clients before responding.
“What do you need?”
Chuck and Pedro dipped short, slimy bath towels into a mixture of vinegar, oil and mud, soaking the terry cloth completely in their hands before rubbing the mixture into each piece of the ornate bed they had built together. The brownish orange frame featured slatted headboard and footboards that consisted of rounded twisted inch-wide dowlings. They looked like they had been drizzled and swirled from an ice cream dispenser and frozen in long, thin trails from the arched top of the piece to the base support structure of their creation. With the browned, stained towel in hand, Chuck worked the oils into every twist and turn of the slats, slowly and deliberately to achieve a perfectly even coat. Pedro lay on his back, ensuring that even the underbelly of the bed frame receive the full care and treatment as the rest of the piece.
Upon completing the task, they admired their joint handiwork.
“Do you know how much I could get for this in the states?” he asked his woodworking partner.
“A couple a hundreds of dollars, right?” Pedro beamed with pride.
“Try a couple thousand,” Chuck corrected him. “You should be selling this work of yours for a lot of money.”
Mirabella exited the house with two cheese and hot pepper tortillas in hand. After saying something positive to Pedro about the “hermosa cama”, she thanked Chuck and said something long and unintelligible in Spanish to him. Pedro translated.
“She said you can stay a couple days and help me finish fixing the roof, but she don’t have a job since Mr. Casteneda got mad at her and told her she couldn’t use his shop no more. So, she can’t afford you to stay much longer than that.”
Mirabella gave Chuck a sympathetic look as to apologize for not being able to help him further.
“Tell her she’s an angel and I appreciate the few days she’s able to offer.”
Pedro translated Chuck’s words and relayed another line of dialog from his mother back to Chuck.
“She said she put the icon on her phone for your e-mail and it got lots of new ones for you to read,” Pedro said. “She said you can use the e-mail or the texting any time you like.”
At that, Mirabella told Pedro she’d be busy in the city for the day looking for work and buying food for the evening. Pedro replied that he and Chuck would climb back onto the roof to continue fixing the damaged wood and replacing the cracked tiles.
Pedro gave her a box of carved animals to sell, hopefully to local shops, or even just in the streets. She took the box and told Pedro she would be away for “muchas hores” giving him a hug and kiss before walking across the street to the bus stop.
“I can’t believe Mr. Casteneda treated my mami like that,” Pedro said. “He was always so nice to her. Did you see what happened or why he yelled at her? Was it just because she knocked over those cans like she said? It seems strange he would get that mad.”
“I don’t know,” Chuck shrugged, watching Mirabella through the window. “Maybe he’ll change his mind.”
Pedro turned to Chuck with a mischievous smile.
“We work on the roof for an hour,” he said. “Then I show you the tunnel.”
Rupert leaned far forward, almost entering Senator Sanchez’s personal space.
“What do you need from us?” he asked.
“There are two parts to what I’m going to need,” she answered. “For one, no judge will take this case without pressure. We need to immediately engage the press and get this story out into the public. And, I’m not talking local papers. We have to go national on this. A family man with three teenaged daughters, paid his taxes, voted every year, worked hard to earn a fair living is ripped from his home and family and sent to Mexico where he’s nearly beaten to death by gangs and corrupt police. It’ll be an attention-grabber, and it’ll force McGiverny to take notice. You think judges just decide what’s right. They’re like anyone else. Public sentiment goes a long way in influencing their whims. We need a national PR campaign and you, Ms. Domo, the struggling mother and grieving wife will be the star of the show.”
Stephanie squirmed in her seat, but didn’t react. She looked quickly at Emily and then back to Rupert.
“And, if you’re willing,” the Senator continued. “Your pretty young daughters would go a long way in helping to generate public sympathy for your case. Immigration is war out there. The battle to influence public thinking is so delicate and complex. This is one more weapon we can use to help sway the dialog and solve this problem in a more constructive way than our current administration’s approach. But I don’t want to wax political. I just want to help you with your specific problem.”
Rupert ignored the first condition and asked about the second.
“You’re going to have to bring Chico to me so I can turn him over to the INS,” she replied. “Give me his location and I’ll turn it over to the feds so they can arrest him. We give them something of value, they give us something back in return.”
“What would they give us?” Stephanie asked, finally unable to keep deferring to her counsel.
“Like I said,” the Senator answered calmly and patiently. “Our judges are human like anyone else – very human. They respond to pressure. If we can put pressure on them from the public, that’s half the battle. We also need to alleviate pressure from the other side. We give them Chico and the federal lawyer takes it easy on us in court. That’s the only way this can work.”
“Of course, I have to consult with my client first,” Rupert said.
“Do whatever it takes,” Stephanie said.
“We can subpoena the GPS data from his car,” said Rupert. “I’ll need his approval to do so. We need to speak with him as soon as possible.”
“Fine,” said the Senator, with her hand extended to shake with Rupert and his two clients. “As long as he doesn’t do anything else to piss off the feds, we might have a chance here.”