The Burqua, I don’t love it.

Posted: May 11th, 2010 by .

I hate the burqua - that long, flowing, shapeless garment that is the symbol of women’s oppression in muslim countries.  Yes, I know, there are apologists who say its a choice, it allows a woman to protect her natural beauties which are meant for her husband alone, blah blah blah.  Sorry, I don’t buy it.  It is meant to subjugate and relegate women to a second class citizenry that we then say we ‘chose’.  If the choice is don’t leave the house, or leave fully covered, a woman will ‘choose’ the covering.  Any woman who tells others that she chooses a burqua because she is a modern, independent muslim woman is lying to herself.  Especially in the United States,where wearing a burqua makes you stand out like the proverbial sore thumb – you aren’t walking the streets blending in to society, you are making everyone around you aware of your difference.  They do exactly what you don’t intend them to do when you wear it – they look at you.

But let me ask this, who chooses to walk through life as a non-entity, non-existent?  Who puts on an outfit to make sure no one ever notices her unless she is ashamed or afraid of being a ‘her’.

My mother wore the burqua for most of her teenage years.  She hates it too.  It suffocates her, you can only see pieces of the outside world – like a horse with blinders on you can only see straight ahead.  It makes you trip and gets caught between your knees.  It’s horribly hot and has no ventilation, save the mask in the front.  When she went to Afghanistan two years ago, it was the burqua she despised the most, more than the bombed out buildings or the ravaged shell of her hometown.  It wasn’t what had changed, but what had stayed the same – the continued oppression of women was in full force, the same as it was when she left 36 years ago.

The burqua is the hallmark of all that is wrong with Islamic states, too much emphasis on a woman’s booty and not enough on infrastructure and education.

France has proposed a ban on the burqua.  Turkey, recently lifted a ban against the hijab. In the United States, there is fequently talk about banning the burqua, and while I don’t like it from a civil liberties perspective, the feminist in me would be thrilled.

Years ago, a woman in Orlando brought suit against the state because they wouldn’t let her keep her burqua on for her driver’s license picture.  The picture would have been of a ghost, like on scooby-doo – a person covered in a sheet.  How could you possibly identify her like that?  Newsflash to said woman in Orlando, in Saudi Arabia where women are required to wear the burqua they do not drive because, well, its hard to fucking see with that thing on.  A bit of a safety hazard, you know?

In the U.S., a woman was told she had to remove her niqab while testifying in small claims court or risk having her case dismissed.  In Toronto, a judge required a woman who was the alleged victim of a rape to remove her full face covering as well.  I don’t mean to be insensitive, but if its my client charged with this crime, I’d like to know if the woman is snickering or rolling her eyes while she sends my client to prison for a couple many years. Isn’t that one way of knowing if a person is being truthful, eye contact, body language? 

This post could end up in a “if you don’t like it here, go somewhere else” type of thing.  And, really, when I walk around in the DC heat in the middle of summer and see a man in shorts and a t-shirt with a wife in a black burqua, I want to punch him in the face.  She walks next to him, pushing the stroller with a baby girl in it, and I want to punch the wife in the face too for perpetuating it, for allowing it to happen.  If she tells me its a choice, I’ll want to know, will you let your daughter make a different choice?  Or, will I see her in the mall a couple of years from now at Build-a-Bear, her hair properly covered, a long dress with long sleeves and leggings covering her little legs in the middle of July?

There is an Iranian poet, Mirzadeh Eshqi, who wrote a poem called “Women in Shrouds”

Why the fuss? Men are God’s servants and women are too.
What have women done wrong, to feel shame before men?
What are these unbecoming, uncouth cloaks and veils?
They are winding sheets, meant for the dead, not the living.
I say “Death to the men who bury women alive
in the name of religion!” That is enough to say here.

If two or three poets add their voices to mine,
The people will soon start humming this song
Their hums will uncover the women’s fair faces,
The women will proudly throw off their vile masks
The people will then have some joy in their lives.
But otherwise, what will become of Iran?
With the women in shrouds, half the nation is dead.

The burqua irks me.  I want to wake women up from the notion that these things are legitimate choices.  A legitimate choice is staying home to raise your children.  A legitimate choice is even homeschooling.  A legitimate choice is traveling without your kids because you are the CEO of your own little company.  Hiding in plain sight is not a choice, its a hindrance to our progress as human beings, and as women. 

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Posted in: Not Gulity No Way   |   4 Comments

Your problem is my problem. If I’m your lawyer. If I’m a notario, you’re SOL.

Posted: May 10th, 2010 by .

I do a fair bit of immigration work these days.  It’s not all form filling and filing, as the myth goes.  (I wish it were. Wouldn’t that be a great way to make a living?) It’s actually incredibly complicated with the various statutes, regulations, policy manuals and cables to navigate through.  Immigration law has its own caselaw and precedent and its got a language of letters and numbers that will make your head spin.  Ethical issues are tougher to manage as well – as a criminal defense attorney your role is clear:  Defend your client within the confines of the law.  That’s easy.  There really is very little you can’t do or say and you don’t need to tell a client well, you did it so I can’t represent you – there is almost always something you can do, whether its by way of mitigating sentence or just plain old counselling.  In immigration, there are too many people for which the answer is just, I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.

So while most of us lawyers are out here busting our hump to try to get people playing nice in our immigration system, to manuever and contort ourselves to find legal means of legitimizing our visitors’ stay here, there are others who are more than happy to take a buck (or several thousand) without any license to practice law and just fill out forms.  These folks, called notarios, otherwise known as ‘crooks’, offer these form filling services for a princely sum.  When the shit hits the fan, though, you are on your own.

The crooks aren’t so different from the Legal Zooms and Nolos of our current internet world.  Cheaper than a lawyer, but more expensive than doing it yourself.  It gives you the feeling that you’ve got someone who knows what they are doing on the other end  But, really, that’s all you’ve got is a feeling.  You actually won’t have someone who will show up at Surrogate’s court when your will is contested.  You probably won’t have someone to refile your corporate papers when your business filing ends up with the wrong letters on the end (ex: in Maryland if you are a law office, you must be P.C. I doubt LegalZoom knows that.)  Who will you turn to when you need an amendment to your bylaws or want to just ask if your step-children can be included on your I-360?  When you pay for a lawyer, you pay for the peace of mind, knowing that your problem is now their problem.

The notarios are thieves.  They steal money from clients who are desperate enough to pay it.  Usually the people they target don’t understand english and really just want someone who can read and write to fill in the blanks.  These thieves work under guise of “immigration experts” and since they can speak the client’s language and are frequently from their native countries, they are trusted explicitly.  Maybe we can have the folks in Arizona just start recommending them to their unwanted immigrants.  Using a crook/notario is a quick way to get a free flight back home.

I went to see a new client last night, mother’s day.  I went to her house to talk to her about her case.  We’ve got to be in court tomorrow and I’ll ask for more time since she just hired me.  She’d gone to one of these crooks to file her paperwork.  When she called him to tell him what had gone wrong he told her that it wasn’t his problem. 

Now that I’m her lawyer, its mine.

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Posted in: Not Gulity No Way   |   One Comment

A belated Mother’s Day Post in Two Parts

Posted: May 10th, 2010 by .

Warning – lots of sap ahead.  If you are brave, read on.

Part One:

I promised a post on mother’s day and I failed to deliver, I was busy being a mother – changing diapers, time outs, Trader Joe’s.  I didn’t get a day off (although I did ‘get’ to go dress shopping, not my favorite thing in the world despite my love of heels and mascara) I didn’t get a massage or breakfast in bed.  I got to be what I wanted to be, what I paid dearly to be, a mother.

As my four original, faithful readers know, I went through a lot to have these boys.  Their conception was not sexy or hot, it wasn’t a drunken evening of lust.  It involved a doctor of Indian decent, a few nurses, and an embryologist who came out of her dark lab with a tube containing three embryos and my babies first picture.  Two of those embryos became my kids.  One didn’t make it.  I have one embryo on ice, and despite my incredibly pro-choice stance, I view it as my kids’ sibling and will be thawing it in the next year or so.  We feel obliged to give it a shot at life.  So, for me, motherhood was anything but a natural function of my womanliness.  It came at a price, both literally and figuratively.  Mother’s day for me is a reminder that this is what I wanted.  This is what I signed up for.   While it may be only a Hallmark Holiday, or, as my friend Jamison says, demeaning to the entire notion of motherhood, it’s a holiday I didn’t think I would ever get to celebrate so I welcome it as a time for reflection  on all that is beautiful and awful about being a mom. 

Part Two:

My mother wasn’t allowed to leave her house without her burqua after her tenth birthday.  She was tall, tall enough for people to call a ‘woman’.  She had 10 years of childhood and not a minute more.  That’s more than a lot of Afghan girls got, but it still wasn’t enough.

My mother was engaged to my father when she was 17.  I used to ask her if she was excited when she got the proposal. She would laugh and say “oh yeah, so excited”.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that she didn’t know who she was going to marry, just that a man had been chosen for her.  My father was a well-educated man.  He sent my mother to school in Kabul while he was finishing medical school there.  She learned to hold a pencil, to read and write her name.  She walked in the streets of Kabul without a burqua for the first time as an adult.  Freedom was sweet. 

My father left Afghanistan before I was born.  My mother was to come to America alone, leave me in Kandahar.  She couldn’t do it.  She told him to move on, find another wife, she was staying with her daughter.  He gave in – he’d married my mother for her sweet disposition and her good looks, I don’t know if he was counting on her determination – and I came to the promised land.  An 18 month old girl with her 21 year old mom.  Mom didn’t speak a lick of English, learned it all at the Chock Full of Nuts on the Bowery (she says) and watching Sesame Street with me. 

My mother is not typical of Afghan women.  She is cool and fiesty and raised her kids to be soulful, thoughtful and spiritual.  She sent me away to college and I was the first woman in my family to do that.  I lived in a dorm!  I stayed in my apartment for summers!  I backpacked through Europe for months!  I became an attorney who kept her last name and I defended people accused of terrible things.  Through all of this, I heard my mother’s voice “Zary, you can do it.  Zary, don’t ever say you can’t.  Zary, don’t quit, try harder.  Be better.”

My mother told me that if I changed my last name, I would have to repay her every dime she paid for my education. (“If your husband is going to get the credit, then he should have to pay for it.”)  My mother’s heart was the one that was broken when I told her I wanted to stay home with the kids and leave the practice of law altogether.  (“What was the point of all that education? You think your kids want a smart mom who sits in the house all day?”)

A mothers hopes and dreams are wrapped up in her children, whether she’s a lawyer, stay at home, clerk or Supreme Court Justice.  My mother’s hopes and dreams were no different.  I let her down when I said ‘never again’.  Now, when I sit in my little office in Hippieville, I know she is happy.  Mom, I dedicate my next ‘not guilty’ to you.

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Posted in: Lawyers, Mothers   |   Leave a comment

Fixing What’s Broke

Posted: May 10th, 2010 by .

I had a chance to talk to a friend of mine from my New York State Days.  Mardi Crawford is an attorney with the New York State Defender’s Association and has her finger on the pulse of the initiatives for Public Defender reform in New York right now. I had a chance to talk to her last night and asked her to do a quick and dirty summary of the happenings in New York.  She was kind enough to do a timeline of what’s happened in New York for those not familiar.

Many Public Defender offices are having similar pains.  New York is not going to go to a state run system, but I wonder if that might not be the best way – although financing will always be an issue.  Here is Mardi’s rundown of happenings in New York


Will New York State see the recent reinstatement of a Civil Liberties lawsuit as an opportunity to truly reform a public defense system widely acknowledged to be broken?

The constitution – and justice itself — requires that people who cannot afford to hire an attorney must be provided one when the government seeks to take away their liberty. If the right to counsel isn’t honored, many other rights may also be lost for lack of proper legal action to secure them. The high court in New York State just reiterated that principle in allowing a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties against the State and five counties to proceed. Advocates for public defense reform are hoping that this development will add to the already-growing momentum for public defense reform in the Empire State. While many states experience public defense problems, often brought on or heightened by the Great Recession, New York’s public defense system (or non-system) has been in ongoing crisis since well before the economic downturn.

A brief timeline for those who haven’t been following New York’s public defense crisis:

1965-2006 – From the time the State implemented a patchwork county-operated and primarily county-funded system for providing public defense, problems were apparent. Entities including the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the New York State Defenders Association studied various counties at different times and consistently found major deficiencies and resulting injustices. Beginning in 2001, bills that would create an independent public defense commission to oversee public defense in the state were introduced in the State Legislature but failed to pass.

2006 – a blue ribbon commission reported to the State’s Chief Judge, Judith Kaye (now retired) that the county-by-county system mandated by the State Legislature in 1965 fails to satisfy constitutional and statutory obligations to protect the rights of public defense clients. This finding followed statewide hearings and a study by the nationally-recognized public defense consultant The Spangenberg Group.

2007 – The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action suit against the State for unconstitutionally deficient public defense services in five counties.

2008 – The NYCLU suit survived a motion to dismiss. The five named counties were added as defendants in the case.

2009 – Momentum for public defense reform grew, with many legislators and others calling for creation of an independent public defense commission. Late in the year, an intermediate appellate court dismissed the NYCLU suit as presenting an “nonjusticiable” issue that must be resolved by the other branches of government. Many state and national organizations filed briefs as amici curiae, urging that the suit be allowed to go forward.

2010 – Recognizing that even in a difficult budget year, the State must begin to address its public defense crisis, the Governor included a modest reform in the Executive Budget. Famed former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who with 61 other former prosecutors had joined a brief authored by the Brennan Center for Justice urging the state’s high court to reinstate the NYCLU claim for better defense services, published an op-ed. The State Senate and Assembly each agreed that, with at least some modifications, the Governor’s proposal for public defense reform should be instituted. Now, action on that reform, like many other important measures, is subject to the negotiations that continue on the overdue 2010-2011 New York State Budget. And the recent Court of Appeals decision in Hurrell-Harring v the State of New York, which reinstated the NYCLU lawsuit, looms above those negotiations.

I’ve been having chats with former PD’s turned private counsel to discuss their take on the difference between how they reprsented clients as PD’s versus how they do it now.  Some of them are very forthright about the change in how they can practice as private lawyers, while others seem to believe they treated PD clients the same way they would treat a privae one.  I doubt this is true – if someone is paying you a few thousand dollars, you aren’t going to tell them you’ll meet them in the hallway of the courthouse on the day of trial and you’ll talk about the case, witnesses, and possible outcomes with them then.  To say otherwise is just not true. 

However, public defenders across the country are having a harder and harder time keeping up with their caseloads.  I don’t make excuses for PD’s who just don’t do their job, but we need more lawsuits like the ones in New York State to keep all of us honest.

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