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MOVIE REVIEW: “Knives Out,” a Murder Mystery with a Serious Immigration Theme. And, Some Other Thin

First, W.A.O. v. Cuccinelli

It has been a while since I have posted anything on my website blog. This is because the news has been so depressing as the Trump Administration war on immigrants progresses that it is hard to point to anything positive.

One notable victory that is now a few months old, however, bears some comment. Earlier this year, I commented on the denial of the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Petition that I had filed for one of my clients from Guatemala who had come to the United States as a result of abandonment abuse and neglect from his parents back in his own country. The “problem” with the petition was an illegal USCIS “policy” to deny SIJS green card status to juveniles who were “over 18” and, according to USCIS’s erroneous reading of New Jersey law, “adults” ineligible for SIJS status.

I took an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) from the denial of this status to my client because I had prevailed in many prior cases where USCIS granted SIJS status to juveniles over 18 and under 21 who were “unemancipated” under New Jersey state law.

Lowenstein Sandler, LLP, one of the top law firms in New Jersey, has an active pro bono department. They recognized the injustice of the situation as it affected hundreds of noncitizen kids in New Jersey who were eligible for SIJS relief, but wrongfully denied lawful status because of this illegal USCIS “policy.” When the law firm was looking for examples of juveniles denied relief for a class action, I suggested my client is a candidate and indeed he wound up being one of the “named” plaintiffs (by initials only to preserve privacy) in the class-action lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The plaintiffs scored a smashing victory in the lawsuit, captioned W.A.O. v. Cuccinelli. Here is a link to the decision.

In brief, this is what the federal district court held. The defendants

  • Violated the Administrative Procedure Act by (1) exceeding the agency’s statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), (2) usurping the authority granted to state courts by the INA, (3) depriving Plaintiffs and class members of due process of law, and (4) failing to follow prescribed procedures.

  • Must issue SIJS decisions with the required deference to state law regarding the jurisdiction and powers of the NJ family courts.

In addition, the court’s order requires the government

  • To reassess and re-adjudicate as necessary the SIJS petitions of the 110 juveniles in the class whose petitions the Defendants say they have so far denied;

  • To work with us to identify all juveniles in the class and provide them notice of the court’s order;

  • To work with us on a system for correcting all adverse actions taken against class members; and

  • On the government’s consent, to stay deportations of class members for six months.

Somewhat ironically, the Administrative Appeals Office, where I had filed my client’s appeal, issued a decision reversing the initial denial of my client’s SIJS grant shortly before the federal district court ruled on the suit. However you can take to the bank that there would have been no AAO reversal had Lowenstein Sandler, LLP, not filed the class-action lawsuit.

Okay, now to “Knives Out.”

This recently released film is an old-fashioned murder mystery in the Agatha Christie tradition. I went to see it with my Russian immigrant, now US citizen wife, as a form of light entertainment after a long weekend of work. What I didn’t expect was an immigration theme in the film that validates a lot of what I believe as an immigration lawyer.

The plot was a classic whodunit involving the deceased patriarch of a family that had grown filthy rich from his famous murder mystery novels. Most of the characters were the predictable family members fighting over who would inherit his estate, as well as the policemen and a private investigator brought in to investigate the crime. However, the plot contained a surprise.

The murdered patriarch’s caregiver was a Hispanic nurse. The family described her as an immigrant who “came to America the right way” and a person they called “just like one of the family” -- even though none of them knew exactly what country she came from in South America.

The beautiful Ana de Armas played the role of the nurse and caregiver. See the movie poster at far right. Ironically, she happens to be a foreigner holding dual Cuban and Spanish citizenship. As the last person who supposedly saw the deceased patriarch alive, her character was a prime suspect in his murder.

Let me say this about the film. As light entertainment, it was amusing and took my mind off my work. But on another level it made me feel very good about the time I spend helping immigrants.

Why? Because a powerful theme n the film is the value that immigrants bring to America, and how artificial so much of the “coming to America the right way” nonsense is. A major subplot was the struggle that the nurse had worrying about her undocumented mother and the fear she had that her mother would be deported once the public focused on the nurse as a suspect in the case.

I have long felt that immigrants are the people who keep our Nation strong and new because they have the initiative and drive to better themselves and contribute to society, whereas native-born Americans with inherited wealth frequently care only about themselves. What makes America great again, and again, and again is that we are and always must be “a nation of immigrants.”

“Knives Out” makes that point both with humor and poignancy. I can’t recommend it enough not only as an entertaining murder mystery but also a serious civics lesson in American values.

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