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Lawyers Hear Message of Hate: ‘Go Back to Your Country’

Lawyers Hear Message of Hate: ‘Go Back to Your Country’

Civil libertarians have sounded alarms over Donald Trump’s calls for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and restrictions on Muslims entering the country. But as some Big Law partners have found, a vocal segment of America is willing to go further.

Last week William Lee, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and one of the country’s top intellectual property litigators, recounted how he’d been told to “go back to your own country” by a man in his hometown outside Boston this past summer.

He’s not the only one.

Cyndie Chang, managing partner of the Los Angeles office of Duane Morris and president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, said that she was standing on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., in May when an older Caucasian man told her the same thing: Go back to your country.

“I was in shock, and fear a little bit,” said Chang. She said that she didn’t respond to the man.

Chang, whose family came to the country from China five generations ago, said that she’s been hearing similar stories from others amid this year’s presidential race and its aftermath, including accounts of threats of violence.

“I am somewhat anxious and fearful,” she admitted. Next week, she said, she will be traveling to another city that she didn’t want to name. She decided to skip a visit to a relative who lives a few hours away to avoid driving alone during that trip. “It’s giving me a little pause,” she said.

Chang became NAPABA’s president at the beginning of November. She said that the organization is working to address the hostility that some members may be experiencing.

“We’re monitoring the situation carefully and putting together a hate crime tool kit for members,” she said. The kit will include information on identifying hate crimes and where to report them.

NAPABA, which represents the interests of roughly 50,000 lawyers, is a nonpartisan group, Chang stressed. “Ignorance and prejudice don’t have a party,” she said.

Shortly after the election, the group issued a statement that the group is committed to working with President-elect Trump and the new Congress “to advance the interests of the Asian Pacific American community.” It also sounded a cautionary note: “Millions of Americans of good faith, of every stripe, and of both parties have expressed profound concern, anxiety and even fear, about the tenor of the recent election, and about the future of our country. As members of the legal profession, we have a special responsibility to ensure the continuity of our best legal traditions, and to defend and uphold our commitments to justice, fairness, equality and the rule of law under our Constitution.”

Hate on the Rise?

Pedro Torres-Diaz, the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association and a partner at Jackson Lewis, said that he was “horrified” to read about Lee’s experience.

“It is of great concern to me personally as a Latino attorney that minority attorneys are experiencing this backlash,” he said.

Torres-Diaz said that he hasn’t heard about similar encounters involving Latino lawyers, but he pointed to a recent bulletin from the Southern Poverty Law Center showing a recent spike in hate acts against immigrants. The center reported 701 reported hate incidents in the week after the election.

Wilmer’s Lee said last week that lawyers in the United States have a responsibility to stand up against racism. His own experience in a wealthy Boston suburb showed that xenophobia isn’t limited to certain parts of the country, he said.

Lee was filling his Mercedes-Benz SUV at a Wellesley gas station when a man asked how he could have such a car and then said that he wasn’t welcome in the U.S.

Lee, who is ethnically Chinese but whose family has been in the country since 1948, told the man that he didn’t understand.

“You mean, you don’t understand English,” the man said.

“I don’t understand ignorance,” Lee replied


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