What a day in court means for the immigrant in Chicago, a process that has been likened to being “locked up in a cage.”
On a recent afternoon, a group of lawyers from the immigration and refugee advocacy organization American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) sat in the lobby of the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago.
While waiting for the next immigration hearing, they took in a case on immigration and immigration-related legal issues.
“What I have seen is, if you’re in the U.S. illegally, you’re not going to be able to get into a position where you can apply for a green card,” said Laura Baca, the legal director of AILA’s Illinois chapter.
The case involved a woman who was denied an immigration visa in 2015 and eventually was arrested by U.s.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for entering the country illegally.
During her trial, Baca said, her attorneys had to “play the race card, and that’s the same thing we did during the Trump administration.”
Baca was referring to the Trump immigration ban that barred Syrian refugees and others from entering the United States.
ICE agents arrested Baca on immigration charges after they searched her apartment on Sept. 25, 2015, and found a passport belonging to the woman.
They confiscated her passport and the woman was later released on $100,000 bond.
The case was the first of many that Baca had represented in her lifetime, and her colleagues were impressed with her skills.
“She was an extraordinary lawyer, and the way she handled that case, it was an example of why she’s a champion in this community,” said AILA executive director Laura Dyer.
Dyer added that Baez was “absolutely one of the most talented attorneys I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
The case, she said, “was the kind of case where the legal team really stepped up and took the lead.”
The Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Project (IRAP), which is part of Aila’s Chicago office, was among the lawyers in attendance for Baca’s case.
IRAP is a non-profit that advocates for the rights of immigrants and refugees in the Chicago area.
“We were extremely proud to be part of the immigration defense team,” said IRAP attorney and president Jami Eustace.
Eustace said she believes Baca is “very smart and very experienced” in immigration cases, but that she has “never seen anything like this.”
“It was really remarkable to see that they were able to do it so quickly,” Eustac said.
Baca is a native of Mexico who came to the United State in 2008.
She said she has lived in Chicago for about 20 years, and is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School.
She began working in the city as a lawyer in 2006.
After serving a term in the State Department, she worked for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a legal adviser for asylum-seekers.
She moved on to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), where she helped coordinate refugee resettlement programs.
Baez is a lawyer who has represented clients from Pakistan to Iran, and she has also represented immigrants and asylum-seeker families from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
She has represented immigrant clients in various immigration cases in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Canada and Mexico.
On her Facebook page, Baez wrote that she “always knew I was going to do this in Chicago.”