Monday, August 23, 2004

To Hell and Back

Few native-born Americans have any idea what sort of (literally) Kafkaesque nightmare it can be to deal with the INS, and this is a story that one hopes will give a few immigrant-bashing types a little pause to think. There are few things more frustrating than having one's fate rest in the hands of an unresponsive bureaucracy with the feeling that there's little that one can do to affect events; fortunately, in this case, an intimate acquaintance of the affected party happened to be a lawyer, and apparently a damned good one too.

I know it's standard practice to indulge in jokes at lawyers' expense, and that there are any number of instances of runaway juries doling out massive damages to make one wonder about the American legal system, but cases like this one help to show that the US legal system also has tremendous strengths that are rarely acknowledged if only because they've come to be taken for granted. How many countries are there in the world in which a private plaintiff can take his or her government to court, expect the government's representative(s) to actually appear before a judge, have the judge rule against the government, and then (rarest of all) actually have the government abide by the ruling? What is more, for all the grousing about "ambulance chasers" one hears, it is surely a good thing that there are mechanisms available that extend the possibility of getting effective legal representation to even the poorest members of society; a legal system that is effectively stacked in favor of the rich (as "loser pays" systems like Britain's are) both offends one's sense of what "justice" ought to mean and encourage less affluent members of the public to resort to extra-judicial measures to gain the recompense they feel to be their due.