“I’m sorry, honey, but you’re going to have to find somebody else to raise your kids.”

Her name is Luna, Spanish for moon, and she is the first client that we visit as Liz, a federal defender in Texas, takes me, a state court public defender who is interested in practicing federal criminal law, with her as she meets her newly-appointed clients.

Luna is twenty-eight and under federal indictment for the second time. The first time had been on account of her boyfriend, who asked her to help him sell some drugs. She made a few phone calls, never suspecting that the buyer on the other end was an informant working off his own case for the FBI. She did time in Carswell before she was “returned” to Mexico.

She is a Mexican legally, but not really. Her parents had brought her to Texas when she was young, and she’d grown up here, graduated from High School here, had kids here. But she isn’t a citizen and she’d been caught dealing drugs and that’s that.

In Mexico, she tried to make a go of it by living with family that she’d never met before. At least she spoke the language. She called her kids, who remained in Texas, daily. Every so often, they Skyped. After a while, though, she decided that she wanted to hold them again so she violated the terms of her release and tried to come back. She was caught at the checkpoint. Now, she’s in the Winkler County Jail.

 “Luna, my darling!” Liz says as she walks in, “what have you done? I’m so sorry for you!”

Luna explains that there were no drugs this time, just an attempt to come back to see her girls. “But the guidelines, darling! You know the guidelines. Don’t you remember the federal sentencing guidelines?”

Liz lays a chart on the table.

“Your base offense level is here,” she says, pointing with a pen. “But you were deported for a drug crime, which means you’re catching all these extra levels. Plus, that prior case gives you criminal history points. Plus, you were on supervised release when you tried to come back: more points! It’s bad!”

“How bad?”

Liz puts down the pen. “Even if at the bottom of the range, you’re looking at about five years.”


“I mean, you can try it if you want to, but you’re not gonna win it. You were caught at the checkpoint. You have a prior drug conviction. You can’t dispute any of that.”

“But five years …”

“The system punishes people for going to trial. The judge can make it worse than five if you lose. And he will. Trust me.”

“But what about my kids? I need to raise them. They’re my kids.”

“How old are they?”

“Seven and nine.”

Liz folds her hands and places them on the table. “I’m sorry, honey, but you’re going to have to find somebody else to raise your kids.”

The prohibition against discrimination under international law