Law brings order, relief to life of immigrant mother

Not too long ago, before the snow piles had made open-air igloos out of every inter­sec­tion, I came to some­thing of a cross­roads in my life. I became a lawyer at age 49.

Sit­ting in the august cham­bers of the Con­necti­cut Supreme Court build­ing, I was get­ting ready to intro­duce myself as Attor­ney Marie Grady for the first time. Since that was not much of an intro­duc­tion to remem­ber – even for a brain taxed by three years of law school and two bar exams – nat­u­rally my mind wandered.

In the pro­gram for the offi­cial swearing-in cer­e­mony was a col­lec­tion of quotes about the law. By far, these were not the most stir­ring quotes I had read. When it comes to law and jus­tice, the words of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. still can bring a chill. “Injus­tice any­where is a threat to jus­tice every­where,” the civil rights icon once declared.

Per­haps the most influ­en­tial lawyer of all, Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln, also is remem­bered for his epic ele­gance in sum­mon­ing up the pil­lars of jus­tice this coun­try was sup­posed to be founded upon.

Still, there was some­thing about the words of Archibald MacLeish, a Pulitzer Prize win­ning poet, that seemed to cap­ture what the law means to any­one who calls a lawyer. The law is a lan­guage unto itself, that if spo­ken cor­rectly, can “make sense of what we call the con­fu­sion of human life.”

When I read the quote in that great hall, I thought of a strug­gling immi­grant mother who had just learned from the U.S. gov­ern­ment that it intended to deny her husband’s peti­tion to put her on a path to cit­i­zen­ship. One of the prob­lems, accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment offi­cer who read her husband’s peti­tion, is that he had to move to another state to find work. His wife could not join him because she had just started a des­per­ately needed med­ical trial which was her only hope of com­bat­ing a debil­i­tat­ing disease.

At the crux of the long notice of intent to deny from the gov­ern­ment was this ques­tion: How could this cou­ple have a bona fide mar­riage when they weren’t liv­ing together full time?

Con­fu­sion and fear swept across her face as she explained her dilemma. Her body seemed to con­tort itself into a tight knot as if to gird her­self against the mas­sive might of a gov­ern­ment which was sus­pi­cious of her inten­tions. How would she and the son who had known no other home be able to stay?

At the time I was craft­ing appeals to a num­ber of such deci­sions for an attor­ney while await­ing my bar exam results.

Over the next few days, we fig­ured out how. For one thing, more than 3 mil­lion U.S. cit­i­zen spouses are forced to live apart for work these days, a num­ber that has increased as the reces­sion keeps its icy grip on the econ­omy. She and her hus­band were no different.

Within a few weeks of fil­ing a response, the gov­ern­ment changed its mind. It turned out this young immi­grant mother could stay after all. The con­fu­sion and fear were replaced with a smile. There were still wor­ries, but one that had once seemed insur­mount­able had now been put to rest.

As Mr. Macleish once said, the law had not only reduced this prob­lem to order, but at the same time, had given one life “pos­si­bil­ity, scope, even dignity.”

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