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Shahid Haque-Hausrath Wins Neil Haight Pro Bono Award

I am pleased to announce that I am a winner of the Neil Haight Pro Bono Award, given out by the State Bar of Montana to attorneys who have served their communities by providing free legal services to low-income clients.  It is an honor to have been selected for the award, and I am overjoyed with the news.

The award will be presented Friday, September 18, 2009 in Missoula, Montana.  While I won’t be able to accept the award in person, a pro bono client of mine (whom I will write about soon) will be accepting the award in my place.

Story in the Helena Independent Record

John Harrington of the Helena Independent Record wrote a really nice article about me and the Border Crossing Law Firm in today’s paper:

Lisa Kunkel Independent Record - Shahid Haque-Hausrath, with the Border Crossing Law Firm, stands outside his office Friday morning in Helena. Next week, the State Bar of Montana will present Haque-Hausrath with its Neil Haight Pro Bono Award for his work in providing free legal services to low-income Montanans.
Lisa Kunkel Independent Record – Shahid Haque-Hausrath, with the Border Crossing Law Firm, stands outside his office Friday morning in Helena. Next week, the State Bar of Montana will present Haque-Hausrath with its Neil Haight Pro Bono Award for his work in providing free legal services to low-income Montanans.

Shahid Haque-Hausrath was born and raised in the heartland of America. But as the son of immigrants from Pakistan, he’s perhaps more sensitive than most to the issues that can confront people from around the world who want to make the United States their home.

After growing up in southern Illinois and Indiana, Haque-Hausrath went to college in Evansville, Ind., then onto the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He met his wife, an Idaho native and University of Montana graduate, while in school in the Windy City.

He worked for several firms in Chicago before the couple set its sights on the West. They moved to Helena about two years ago, and Haque-Hausreth opened his own practice, the Border Crossing Law Firm.

Next week, the State Bar of Montana will present Haque-Hausreth with its Neil Haight Pro Bono Award for his work in providing free legal services to low-income Montanans.

Immigration law can run the gamut from the mundane to the fascinating. While work visas and residency requests can require a great deal of paperwork, patience and legal advice, Haque-Hausreth takes particular pride in his work securing asylum for clients. He has won asylum for seven refugees who fled their native lands under threat of torture, persecution or death as a result of their political beliefs.

“It was really interesting and I really liked doing it,” the 30-year-old said of his work with political refugees. “You’re in effect saving their lives by preventing their having to go back to their home countries.”

In order to earn asylum, a refugee must show a well-founded fear of persecution. And unlike American citizens, refugees aren’t guaranteed the right of counsel.

“Having an attorney makes such a difference just in making sure their story is heard, and in telling the story the way the court wants to hear it,” Haque-Hausreth said.

Helena may seem like a strange place for an immigration attorney to find work, but while Haque-Hausrath takes clients from around Montana as well as other states, he said there’s no lack of work here.

“We’ve got lots of families here, more than you might think, that are mixed-status,” he said. “I was pretty convinced the work would find its way to me. The business has been successful, although I do spend a lot of pro bono time.”

Nor is his work mostly with Canadians, or with Hispanic clients. He’s had clients from Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and many other countries around the world.

“They find their way to Montana probably for the same reason a lot of people come to Montana,” he said. “You can raise kids here, it’s a great community. It’s beautiful here.”

Haque-Hausreth also lobbies for immigration-related causes at the Montana Legislature, and recently joined the board of directors of the Montana Human Rights Network. He’s also active with the Helena International Affairs Council.

Haque-Hausrath said that his work serves as a constant reminder of how postively many people from around the world view America, and the good fortune that comes from calling this country home.

“After doing this type of work, it gets to you and you realize how lucky you are to be a citizen,” he said. “I took it for granted, but when you see people who aren’t citizens and you see what’s going on in other countries, it makes you so thankful to be a U.S. citizen.”

Reporter John Harrington: 447-4080 or john.harrington@helenair.com.

In the News: Firm Files Writ of Habeas Corpus Action in Montana District Court

One of the Firm’s cases was recently profiled in both the Helena Independent Record and the Missoulian.  This case implicates important constitutional issues regarding the misuse of authority by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) — an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.  While the article contains certain inaccuracies and leaves out the majority of the important legal issues at stake, the article is reported below:

HELENA – A young woman from Argentina with a bad sense of direction could be deported after she mistakenly crossed the Canadian border while driving from Montana to California.

Estafania Menendez, 26, came to the United States in 2002, entering through Georgia with an admission document that said she could legally stay here for six months. However, she moved to California, where she’s lived for the past seven years, and got a series of jobs, including her most recent stint as a bikini dancer at a gentlemen’s club in Pasadena.

In all those jobs, she noted Tuesday during her testimony in U.S. District Court in Helena, Menendez was paid in cash so her illegal immigrant status wouldn’t be revealed. She added, though, that she paid taxes on her earnings after obtaining a tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.

She married once, but it ended after three months. About a year ago, she met a young man from Missoula, and they fell in love.

Menendez said she drove from California to Montana recently to visit with the young man and his family, and to plan their wedding. On Aug. 12, after they said their goodbyes, she drove away, sobbing.

She headed north on Interstate 15, not realizing until she was at the Canadian border that she was going the wrong way.

“I’m bad with directions,” Menendez said.

She explained her plight to the Canadian border agent, who told her to drive around a flagpole to turn around and re-enter the United States. But when she got there without a passport, birth certificate or any identification other than her international driver’s license and her visa, the U.S. agent told her he wasn’t going to let her enter the States because, not only did she not have the proper paperwork, she had lived here illegally for so long that she wouldn’t be allowed to return for 10 years.

He gave her the option of returning to Canada, or being deported by the U.S.

Menendez testified that she was afraid of being alone in Canada and afraid of returning to an abusive father in Argentina, so she decided to try to stay in the United States. In light of that decision, the federal government commenced an expedited deportation effort.

In court Tuesday, her attorney, Shahid Haque-Hausrath, argued that simply driving around a flagpole in Canada to return to the U.S. doesn’t legally mean that she left the U.S. He pointed to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case in which a man whose visa automatically renewed whenever he left the States tried a similar tactic. In that case, the court ruled that driving around the flagpole didn’t constitute leaving the country, Haque-Hausrath argued.

He added that Canada didn’t have any record of Menendez being admitted into the country.

He filed a petition to try to stop the expedited deportation, naming Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general; Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security; two immigration officials and a Toole County sheriff’s deputy as respondents in the case. Haque-Hausrath instead wanted U.S. District Court Senior Judge Charles Lovell to force the government to go through the regular deportation effort, which can take more than a year.

While the judge granted the motion to hear the case, he clearly wasn’t pleased with some of Haque-Hausrath’s arguments. Lovell frequently overruled objections by Haque-Hausrath of questions posed to witnesses by U.S. Assistant Attorney Leif Johnson and of documents submitted as evidence.

Lovell noted that the jurisdiction of the court, given to him by Congress, placed limits on the questions before him and he admonished Haque-Hausrath to stay focused on what the court could and could not rule upon.

The judge said he only could determine whether Menendez was an alien; whether she was ordered removed from the States; and whether she could prove that she was lawfully admitted or was a permanent resident – questions Lovell asked Menendez directly.

She responded that she was not a legal resident, was an alien and was served with a removal order.

Lovell said he would take the case under advisement after the two-hour hearing, and denied a request by Haque-Hausrath to allow Menendez to post bond. She’s been in custody at the Cascade County detention center since her arrest last month.

Pro Bono Victory for Cuban Refugee Who Was Homeless for Over Ten Years

Jose Auraz holds his new Permanent Residence Card, Social Security Card, and Employment Authorization Card.

Jose Auraz holds his new Permanent Residence Card, Social Security Card, and Employment Authorization Card.

The Firm is proud to announce that it has won permanent resident status for José Auraz, a Cuban citizen and resident of Missoula, Montana. José has a compelling story that he would like to share.

In 1993, José fled from Cuba and swam to Guantanamo Bay.  The swim was a lengthy and dangerous one — during the 82 minute swim, José managed to ward off sharks by pouring gasoline on himself.  After arriving at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military eventually brought José to Miami, Florida.  Under the “wet feet, dry feet” policy instituted by the Cuban Adjustment Act, any Cuban who arrives on U.S. soil can apply for permanent residency after one year.  However, José’s path to permanent residency was not an easy one.

It was difficult for José to earn a living in Miami, and he eventually fell into a cycle of poverty from which it was hard to escape.  Although José was lawfully present in the U.S., he didn’t have papers, and couldn’t get a good job without these papers.  José needed an attorney to help him through the complex application process, but he simply couldn’t afford an attorney.

For thirteen years, José bounced between homelessness and poverty, but all of this changed when he found himself at the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana.  A newspaper article from the Missoulian explains what happened next:

For one year, Whitt said Poverello Center director Ellie Hill went on the hunt for an immigration attorney who would take his case. It wasn’t an easy pitch. Missing documents complicated the case, as did the request for pro bono work. Thirteen lawyers later, Shahid Haque-Hausrath, a lawyer at the Border Crossing Law Firm in Helena, agreed to take on the task.

And he succeeded.

“My life changed when I received my employment authorization,” Auraz said.

Now that he is able to earn a living, José can take custody of his son and resume his life.  We wish José the best of luck in all his endeavors!

To read José’s full article from the Missoulian, please click here.