Future uncertain for attorney brought to US as child
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) — Parthiv Patel came to the U.S. from India when he was just 5 years old, his parents seeking a better life and better opportunities for the family.
They settled in Woodbridge, then Cherry Hill where Patel was raised. He graduated from Cherry Hill West, then nearby Rutgers-Camden for undergrad and onto Drexel University for law school.
He never would’ve dreamed that he would one day become the first DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — recipient to be admitted to both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bar associations.
“It feels good but I personally feel super-humbled by the whole experience,” said Patel, 27, an attorney at Parker McCay law firm in Mount Laurel. “Yeah I was the first to do this but there were others before me that kind of laid the groundwork. And others along with me that helped me. The ACLU attorneys helped me. I had people from all walks of life sending me messages of support. I had random groups and organizations submitting letters on my behalf. It was a humbling experience when everyone kind of got together and got behind me to kind of be the first Dreamer attorney in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
DACA is an Obama-era American immigration program which has protected more than 700,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation and enables them to get work permits. DACA recipients, often referred to as “Dreamers,” must pass security background checks and prove that they were either in school, employed or serving in the military.
The Trump administration has tried to end the program, but in November a panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a federal district judge’s nationwide injunction that President Donald Trump lacked the authority to eliminate the program.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t take action in January on the future of DACA, it appears the high court won’t take up the issue during its current term, which ends in June. That would require that the government keep the program going for at least 10 more months.
DACA recipients are commonly called “Dreamers” because of a collection of proposals that would have granted many of the same protections as DACA. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) never received congressional approval.
“That’s always a constant fear in the back of every Dreamer’s head because we all have an expiration date on us,” Patel said. “My current DACA work permit expires in 2021, so April of 2020 I have literally 365 days until I essentially expire out. When you talk to other Dreamers, it’s common for us to say, ‘oh, when do you expire?’ I catch myself doing it sometimes. I’m like this isn’t the right way to say this. You shouldn’t ask someone when they expire but it’s a constant struggle that we face. Luckily the courts have stepped in right now and kept DACA kind on life support, so people are able to renew.”
His hope is to be renewed one more time which would push his date out until sometime in 2022 and “hopefully a new administration that’s more friendlier to the plight of Dreamers, but it’s like a day-by-day situation. If you think about it too much you become disheartened.”
Patel said he knew he always wanted to go to law school and that when DACA was established in 2012 by President Barack Obama’s administration, it gave him that opportunity.
“Once I was in law school, I knew this issue about being admitted to the bar would come up but I kind of put it on the back burner, because I wanted to focus on school and focus on the things I was enjoying,” he said. “But my last semester of law school when everyone was applying to the bar, obviously I had to address this issue up front. It kind of took an emotional toll.”
He recalls sitting in the library studying one day and he couldn’t focus, so he got up and just started walking. He ended up in Logan Circle in Center City, crying.
“I’m like ‘is this the end, will I never be admitted to the bar?,‘” he questioned. “Because I kept pushing off applying to the bar because I knew there was that question of ‘are you an American citizen’? Obviously I would click no, then there would be a drop down on what are you. I think through the encouragement of people, I got help. I got help from the ACLU, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which took on my case and helped me prepare my application.”
He got all his paperwork together, applied, then took the bar exam. The day the results were posted, he received a phone call from the bar. He was congratulated for passing the bar exam, but was told they would have to deny his admission because he was a DACA recipient.
“At this point, I got the ACLU involved,” he said. “It became a prolonged period. I passed the bar in October of 2016 and Pennsylvania didn’t admit me until December of 2017 and New Jersey followed a little bit later and I was admitted in January of 2018. They never questioned if I had the character and fitness to be an attorney. They acknowledged my character aside from being a Dreamer, there was nothing else that would make them bat an eye. There’s two parts to the bar exam. The actual taking of the bar and then the character and fitness evaluation.”
Mariel J. Giletto, a shareholder and corporate department chair at Parker McCay said “we are proud of his determination and consider him an asset to the firm.”
The law firm says they believe Patel is the first DACA recipient to earn bar admission in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Patel’s admission to the Pennsylvania bar created questions about other Dreamers.
“The question remained ‘Ok he’s been admitted, but what about the other Dreamers that follow suit?’” Patel said. “Will they have to go through this yearlong process? Pennsylvania decided to take the extraordinary steps and adopt an official rule that says if you’re a DACA recipient you’re judged just like everybody else, there’s no extra investigation that’s required of you. New Jersey hasn’t taken that extra step, but based on personal knowledge I have of other Dreamers that have been admitted to New Jersey after me, we think it’s just a matter of practice.”
Patel was married in 2017 but he and his wife don’t have any children yet. Since his future isn’t 100 percent clear, everything is a consideration right now.
“For example, is it smart for us to buy our own home?” he said. “My wife is a United States citizen. If we buy a home jointly and I am the primary breadwinner and let’s say I can’t work anymore, are we just going to be in financial ruins? Is it a smart idea to have children when my future is kind of iffy, if I will be in the country or not be in the country the next two years.
“So even though Dreamers kind of keep chugging along and doing the things that every day Americans do, they still have other considerations of even the smallest things. For example, I need a new car. Is it a smart idea for me to take out a $15,000 loan to get a new car? So those questions are always there.”
Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/