Page 18


DATELINE DALLAS The Salvage File BY NATE BLAKESLEE en’s Salvage, a surplus retail and junk store a few concrete-covered les east of downtown Fort Worth, is a bit off the main road to the American dream. To get there from Interstate 35, take the Highway 121 exit up and away from the abandoned red brick housing projects on the west side of the highway and east, toward the Trinity River. Take the first exit past the doleful, murky and head north past used-tire stores and discount appliance-repair shops, into a neighborhood of modest postwar frame houses, chainlink fences, and treeless yards, until you see the yellow plastic sign and unwashed plate glass window of Ken’s. The woman behind the counter, Emilyn Proctor short, olive-skinned, with bright green eyes and thick, sandy hair down to the small of her back has spent the last decade fighting to stay in this place. A native of the Philippines, she has been on the lam wanted for deportation by the I.N.S. since October 30, 1992. In reality, aside from a three-week stint in an east Texas state park, holed up in an RV with her husband and two kids, Proctor has not been a very creative or resourceful fugitive. The I.N.S. could have found her at the store easily enough, if they had bothered to pay a visit; she and her husband are the only two employees. She has spent most of the past five years behind the counter, selling cans of Comet, cold sodas, imitation Swiss army knives and, lately, Pokemon trading cards. “They gave me two choices,” Proctor says. “Go to the Philippines, or go to jail. I said jail. I thought at least I would be here near my kids.” Then she was told that the U.S. has no facilities for immigrants in limbo, that she would simply be held in county jail with the general population. She would be living with criminals. But Emilyn Proctor has never been ac cused of a crime. She entered the country legally in 1987 as the wife of a U.S. citizen she married in the Philippines. She left him after a year, fleeing physical abuse. But when she allowed him to file for a divorce, instead of doing it herself, she fell afoul of one of a variety of ill-conceived anti-immigrant laws enacted in the Reagan era. This particular law, the beginning of all of her problems, was subsequently repealed, but only after creating countless bureaucratic nightmares across the country. It was originally intended to discourage sham weddings between citizens and would-be immigrants. In 1989, she met Kenneth Proctor and remarried. To guide them through what should have been a routine hearing in immigration court, the couple hired Arlington attorney Terry Rombaugh. In the fall of 1992, after the Proctors dutifully appeared for two hearings \(only to have them rescheduled by unprepared the couple of a third scheduled hearing. According to allegations in a lawsuit Proctor filed against Rombaugh, he covered up that and subsequent mistakes, keeping the Proctors in the dark about their deteriorating case until it was too late to rectify the situation. As a result, Emilyn Proctor did not learn she had been ordered deported until a letter was mailed to her in the spring of 1993, by which time she unknowingly had been on the lam for four months. When the couple took the letter to Rombaugh, he advised them to stay our of sight for a few weeks until the heat was off, according to allegations in the lawsuit. Fr the next five years, as Rombaugh ostensibly worked on their case, the Proctor family lived in constant fear of a sudden visit by the authorities. I.N.S. agents would periodically raid the Henderson Street flea market, where the family rented a stall some weekends. “You’d see Mexicans swimming the Trinity River” to get away, Kenneth Proctor recalls. As her case dragged on without resolution, the laws coming out of Washington became increasingly punitive. Under terms of legislation enacted in 1996, Emilyn learned, she would not be able to return to the United States for ten years, by which time her son and daughter would be in their early twenties. The Proctors did not learn the full extent to which Rombaugh had failed them until Kenneth Proctor confronted him in his office in 1998 and physically demanded access to his wife’s file. Rombaugh tells a different story. “I sent her notice and they came by my office,” Rombaugh said. “And there was…a period of time of about six or eight months and she knew[her I.N.S. hearing] was going to be reset. Whether I had noticed her or not, nobody in that situation, when your whole life depended on it for God’s sake, you call your lawyer and ask. They did that.” Rombaugh and his attorney, Mark Bukaty, cite a letter form the State Bar, which ruled that Rombaugh did not commit professional misconduct in his dealing with Emilyn Proctor. The case now moves to state court in Dallas, where the Proctors are sueing Rombaugh. “The case is going to trial and we don’t believe their allegations have any merit,” Bukaty said. It won’t be tried too soon. Rombaugh said Bukaty has filed and appealed pretrial motions that “will continue [prolong] the trial for a year or two.” Ap fter Rombaugh had billed them for an estimated $25,000, the roctors said they decided to try someone new. Dallas immigration attorney John Wheat Gibson specializes in the type of bureaucratic nightmare the Proctors brought to him in 1998. From his modest downtown office, a block from Dealey Plaza, the 53year-old Waco native has carved a niche for himself by working the cases nobody else will take. Once a professor of journalism at Eastern Illinois University, he applied to law FEBRUARY 4, 2000 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER