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Cicero not surprised by immigration crisis

December 16, 2014 | Alumni

The recent immigrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border that has captivated the nation’s attention didn’t simply appear overnight. It’s something those who have been carefully following the country’s immigration problems have seen coming for years, says Chicago attorney Salvador Cicero ’98. 

“I wrote a law review article years ago — the first I ever wrote — and it linked immigration policy to the criminal effects of deporting all of these gang bangers to Honduras, oddly enough, and causing a crisis there because we basically deported all of these highly trained criminals who knew how to use weapons better than the police officers there. So what we’re seeing now is a recognition by the U.S. government that we have a part to play in all of that. This is something that anyone who’s been looking at the immigration problem would have seen coming for years. It’s not anything new,” Cicero said.

A founding partner at Cicero, Vargas & Karr, P.C., Cicero handles a variety of cases in his Illinois practice, but focuses mainly on international, corporate, and immigration issues. In the past he served in various positions as a career member of the Foreign Service of Mexico including as advisor to the under-secretary for multilateral affairs and human rights; director for political and community affairs at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and as chief of legal affairs at the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago.

Over the course of his career, first as a diplomat and now in private practice, Cicero’s work has brought him into contact with a multitude of different clients, from children coming into the country from South America to adults who have been in the U.S. for 10, 15, 20 years. Cicero explained that he’s seen many discrepancies in how similar immigration cases are handled on a state-by-state and case-by-case basis.

“I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you are detained and you have marijuana. You can get bail under the current immigration rules. If you are found with cocaine, however, you can’t. So you can have a really small amount of cocaine and you won’t get any bail, but if you have marijuana you can. So that’s one situation where both of you are either consuming drugs, or selling small amounts of drugs, but because Congress has said cocaine is worse than marijuana, for immigration consequences you’re treated completely different,” Cicero said.

Even with the children he represents who come here from another country, Cicero said they have to rely on the discretion of the presiding judge as to whether or not they can get a continuance in the case to have time to show the government that the children can do well here and should be allowed to stay.

“Right now we are taking advantage of the fact that the government has taken this line of we’re going to help these kids. And all of the kids I represent who come over, I am very proud to say, are doing great in school. These kids are amazing. We’re talking about getting As and Bs with kids

who are just beginning to learn English. And I emphasize to their parents, keep these kids in school, bring me their grades and the judges do what they can. If they don’t have any other avenues for relief, sometimes they’ll give you a continuance for two years, so you have enough time to go to the government and show them how well a kid is doing, then we try to get them to exercise some prosecutorial discretion. And that is the way that we’re dealing with it. But you have to understand, the government having a policy saying ‘we’re going to exercise our prosecutorial discretion’ is not a law. We’re basically in their hands,” he said.

To solve the problems arising from these sorts of cases, Cicero suggests the formation of a panel of immigration experts, people who have extensively studied the topic and the laws, who can make recommendations to Congress on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“Right now the laws are a piecemeal of ideas, and that approach doesn’t work. It doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

In addition to his practice, Cicero has now taking on a new role as chairman of the human resources board for the city of Chicago.

The three-member board is appointed by the mayor of the city of Chicago and is tasked with conducting hearings and rendering decisions in instances of alleged misconduct by career service employees. The board also presides over appeal hearings brought about by disciplinary action taken against employees by individual city departments.

Cicero was confirmed as chairman of the board in February by the Chicago City Council. He is the first Latino to preside over the board in its 17-year history.

“It’s a completely different thing for me, it is very exciting to serve on that board because it gives me the opportunity to learn what being a judge is like,” Cicero said.

He said he truly enjoys being involved in his community. He also currently serves as president of the Hispanic Lawyers of Association of Illinois (HLAI) Charities and in the past served as president of HLAI. Additionally, he served on the Ohio State Alumni Association Board from 2005 to 2010 and has been an

active member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a national civil rights organization, since he was in high school and still serves as their legal advisor in Illinois.

“I’ve always been very involved with my community. In fact when I was at Ohio State I was a Public Service Fellow. I have oriented my entire career toward helping people,” he said. “The great part about being a lawyer is being able to help people. No kid thinks, ‘oh I want to go to law school to make a lot of money,’ they think of going to law school in and I want to save the world kind of way.”

Cicero said he plans to continue finding new ways to remain involved. It’s a tradition that was fostered by his mentor Bert Kram during his time as a student at Moritz, and one he says he plans to carry on in the future.

“When I went to Ohio State we had the mentorship program, which completely changed my life in such a positive way. When I became a practicing lawyer, I became a mentor and I have a great relationship with the people that I have had as mentees. I always feel I get so much more from my involvement than I put in,” he said.

On the weekend, Cicero often spends time with his daughter Maya and girlfriend Domenica Biondolillo.