Gimme shelter

Ethnic Albanians seeking asylum are snared in a battle between the INS and a determined lawyer

On December 2, the INS reversed itself, and District Director Harrington granted the Mehovics "humanitarian parole." They were released from jail, reunited with their son, and allowed to fly to New York, where they would live with relatives and pursue their asylum claims.

Four Yugoslav women, however, remained behind bars, their case for asylum not as compelling as the Mehovics', but their right to apply for it equally limited. At the time, Gibson had been retained only to represent two of the women -- Hurije and Sabahete Arucevic, the wife and sister of an ethnic Albanian who had already been granted refugee status in New York. Gibson quickly went on the attack, seeking to remove Judge Sims from their case. "[The judge] either lacks the ordinary intelligence to understand and apply the law, or he is willing to pervert the law to indulge some personal psychopathology," claimed Gibson in his motion to change venue. "He has no business sitting in judgment on anybody."

Gibson also petitioned District Director Harrington to release the Arucevics on parole. But nearly two months passed before Gibson heard from Harrington, and when he did it was only by coincidence. He ran into Harrington at the INS office on Stemmons Freeway "with a mug of coffee and an agreeable mood," Gibson says. Harrington said he was concerned about the welfare of the women, if they were "turned on the streets," as none of them spoke English. But if Harrington were to receive assurances that they would be cared for by their families, he would release them. "He said that unequivocally," claims Gibson.

Attorney John Wheat Gibson spares no rhetoric in his defense of seven Yugoslav immigrants who he claims are being detained illegally in the Dallas County jail.
Peter Calvin
Attorney John Wheat Gibson spares no rhetoric in his defense of seven Yugoslav immigrants who he claims are being detained illegally in the Dallas County jail.

Three days later, Harrington had his assurances, at least from the Arucevics: They would travel to New York, where family would provide them with housing and lawyers would pursue their asylum applications.

"Harrington reneged on the deal," says Gibson. "He promised me he would release them, and then he refused."

Harrington claims he never made any promises to Gibson, whom he considers an unscrupulous "goofball." "Anyone against Gibson's clients are Nazis or storm troopers," he says. Harrington does admit he agreed to look into the matter, which he did.

"I know we are talking about ladies here, but they have a weak claim for asylum," Harrington says. "It didn't seem feasible to release them to relatives in another jurisdiction when their situation will apply to decisions made here in Dallas."

Gibson says that Harrington wanted to keep his promise but listened to "those sadistic perverts who work for him -- his idiotic trial attorneys...Unfortunately next time, I won't be able to take Harrington at his word."

For Harrington, that won't be a problem. He has no intention of dealing with Gibson anymore. "He can just speak with our lawyers. I am not going to be part of his tactics again."

But Gibson says his tactics were aimed only at getting his clients out of jail and to New York, insisting "they won't get a fair trial here." If that meant going to the media, filing motions challenging the mental health of a judge, or getting human-rights organizations involved, he was only too willing.

In late December, Gibson contacted Diana Paul, a Human Rights Watch consultant based out of Spokane, Washington, who is well-versed in Yugoslavian affairs. Harrington may not have wanted to deal with Gibson, but he agreed to speak with Paul. After their conversation on Monday, according to Gibson, Harrington agreed to free all four Yugoslavs. "Harrington told her that he couldn't make any promises, but for their relatives to buy airline tickets to New York on Wednesday," Gibson says. The women's relatives immediately responded by purchasing four airline tickets for a 5:30 p.m. flight to New York on February 10 and faxing Gibson the itinerary so he could present it to Harrington.

Gibson believes Harrington was again responding to media pressure; Paul's involvement just gave the director the face-saving he needed to release the Yugoslavs without making it appear that Gibson had anything to do with it.

But what if Harrington doesn't follow through like before?

"What can I say?" Gibson says. "If this is another trick, I will look like twice the asshole."

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