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Michael S. Lewis: Laws of humanity



For the Monitor
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dear Future Americans: I am writing to you from the year 2017 A.D. I’m an American lawyer from New Hampshire. I’m white (a concept that may seem absurd or arcane to you by the time you read this letter – it matters as of the date of this letter). I married a pretty Jewish lady from Michigan, and we have two kids. We live in a little neighborhood in Concord, our state’s capital.

I want to tell you a story about a small act of kindness I performed for another American family this year. I want to tell you this story so that you know that whatever has been written about us, we Americans cared about each other during this time.

I want you to know that some of us, even a lot of us, did what we could to ease the pain of people who wanted to be Americans with us, even if they didn’t do everything perfectly to be and stay with us in this country.

There are three reasons I want to tell you this story. First, I’m proud of it. I feel like I did something good with myself. That should be sufficient reason in and of itself to tell a good story.

But really, it never is for autobiographers. So there are two other reasons.

I also want to be remembered for doing something good with myself. I want my children and grandchildren to read this and say that I did something good, even as the memory of me evaporates into the ethers of history. This is selfish, I know.

My excuse for this selfishness is that I think even the faintest memories of good acts have effects down through the generations. Families have a way of defining themselves through their histories, even here, where we say that a father’s sins shall not be visited upon his son (or daughter). Maybe this will help my family define itself in a way that would make me proud many years from now.

Finally, I’m telling this story to protect future generations from the worst of you and to encourage and bolster strength of character in the best of you.

You see, this is a story about immigrants who sought the protection and embrace of the freest and greatest country in the world in the 21st century.

That was my family not so long ago. In the last century, a murderer and villain had taken control of their great and educated country and turned citizens against each other and them.

My grandmother was forced to leave the country of her birth to come here, where she raised my father and he raised me and my brother and sister.

She did this with the help of a good, humane, courageous and welcoming people.

I want the same type of people to exist for my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the families that may enter my family tree in the future. And I want future Americans to know that when the clouds darkened in my time, my descendants can say that their forebear stood up for others and did the right thing. That a precedent existed. And I was the precedent. Maybe others will summon this precedent for my family should the need arise.

These were the thoughts I had when I traveled to Dover this winter to meet my client in Strafford County House of Corrections, an aging woman who had been living in this country illegally for decades and was facing deportation proceedings to a country she hardly knew because she was very young when she left. She’d committed a felony against our country. She stole from it. Not much, but she’d admitted to it. It was not a pretty picture and not one that was instantly appealing to me as a former prosecutor who believes deeply in the rule of law.

But she was also the wife of an American and a mother of Americans: of three children growing up in our country who needed her here to be with them – to raise them and to help raise their children.

It was for these children that I took her case to persuade our resistant government to allow her to remain with her family – to prevent our government from separating another family in these strange times.

I did it free of charge. I had to learn about a law I did not know, the law of immigration, and a part of our government I didn’t know well, the federal immigration system. I also had to come to know a family with different color skin, originally from a different part of the world and even now from a different part of our country. And I must tell you, I am a homebody with limited horizons, but I felt the better for it, even on those visits to the jail, a terrible place for any human to be at any time.

I worked hard and the story ended well, and so it is an even better story as a result. With another lawyer, we freed our client just before Independence Day. We did so by appealing to all of the principles I’ve just described, and we found a judge who saw what we saw and was willing to take a leap of faith on the evening before our sacred national holiday, the one where we celebrate the American dream.

It’s the only time I have been moved to tears in court by the humanity of our system of laws.

I write to you in the hope that this humanity is still alive in our great country. That we have saved us, as we must, over and over again. That in our ever-present and recurrent appeal to the better angels of our nature, those mystic chords swelled once again, even when touched by a humble country lawyer from this northern outpost among mountains and rivers, in this time.

My best to you and yours.

Your forebear,

Michael S. Lewis, Esq.

Oct. 9, 2017

(Michael S. Lewis is a Concord attorney.)