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Our verbal sparring was delightful, challenging, and mind opening August 7, 2008

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Alan Feigenberg, Bronx, NY
Professor of Architecture, CCNY

I first met Ira after returning from a trip to China in 1973. I began working with the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association with Ira’s wife Esther and periodically would meet Esther and Ira for dinner in Chinatown….a meal with brown rice and an organic, healthy Chinese cuisine (no msg), and always a heated discussion about China, the U.S. and the world. Over the years Ira was always available for dialogue…and healthy Chinese food, interlaced and sprinkled with appropriate quotes from Shakespeare, Byron, Marx, and Mao Zedong.

Ira was someone who challenged me to think more independently and critically, always with a wry sense of humor, verbal puns, and strong convictions. Our verbal sparring was delightful, challenging, and mind opening. Not one for small talk, Ira would greet me with a handshake and a “so, what do you think about the revisionist trend in China?” or “didn’t you feel the Guardian article was a bit simplistic in its analysis?”

There were several occasions when I referred some of my Haitian architecture students to Ira for immigration issues, and they always came back with a great appreciation for Ira’s professional assistance, but also for his knowledge and empathy of their nation’s history, their sufferings, and their struggles. If they were strapped for money, which most of them were, Ira would still counsel and guide them, often representing them in immigration hearings, and tell them, “when you’re settled and making some money, then we’ll talk about it some more.”

Ira’s life and career have been that of a generous person committed to the ideas and ideals of true human equality.

Ira, thanks for your inspiration, your energy, your humor and your humanism.

Ira, la lucha continua!

Ira Gollobin: Mentor and Friend July 22, 2008

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Ira Kurzban
Miami, FL

[Remarks made at memorial service for Ira and Ruth Gollobin, July 19, 2008]

irak-2008-iragmemorial Ira Gollobin was a remarkable lawyer, a brilliant strategist, and a superb mentor and teacher. He did it all with deep humility that arose, not from false modesty, but from a profound understanding of a lawyer’s role in the political arena.

Ira was not humble because he was afraid. He had a healthy respect for the awesome power of a federal government gone astray as in the Palmer raids, or in the treatment of Haitian refugees, or today, in the treatment of the foreign born from the Middle East. And he knew that bravado alone was not enough to fight such an implacable foe. But he also knew, and encouraged all of us to recognize, that by coordinating excellent legal work with a deft political strategy, we could uplift the poor and disenfranchised, and support if not win, their political objectives.

He also took the long view. He knew we were in a struggle that went beyond the individual crisis of the moment and invoked a class struggle that used and reused the foreign born for economic objectives. Because his perspective was so broad, he wisely counseled us to be patient and to not indulge in the delusion that we, as lawyers or as organizers, would have some final, definitive victory for immigrants and refugees. We all wanted to be dragon-slayers in our youth and Ira taught us in middle-age to be fisherman who patiently prepare and wait for the appropriate opportunity.

“Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist”

His strategy worked remarkably well in the struggle for Haitian refugees who fought racial injustice and political intolerance. In the 1970s as more and more Haitians fled the oppression of the Duvalier regime, Haitians began seeking refuge in the United States. Those who came by airplane in the late 1960s and early 1970s went largely unchallenged by immigration authorities. However, when Haitian refugees began appearing by boat on the shores of South Florida in the mid- and late-1970s, the government acted swiftly, cruelly, and intolerantly. The entire foreign policy and intelligence apparatus of the United States would not support any suggestion that the Duvaliers were violent dictators. The local South Florida community also recoiled at the thought of having waves of the first Black refugees come to the area. Haitians, including women and children, were imprisoned in local county jails. Their treatment was in sharp contrast to that accorded Cuban refugees who were embraced by the foreign policy establishment and greeted with open arms in the South Florida community.

iraat81 Ira had already begun the defense of Haitian refugees when I arrived in Miami in 1977. He was working, in his inevitable low-key style, with the leaders in the Haitian community in Brooklyn, the National Council of Churches, the local Catholic Archdiocese in Miami, Leonard Boudin, the renowned civil rights lawyer, and a team of lawyers led by Don Bierman and Neil Sonnet in Miami to craft and organize a broad political and legal defense for Haitian refugees. Like the maestro that he was, Ira assembled a complete defense for Haitian refugees that involved these organizations and lawyers as well as brilliant lawyers, strategists and activists such as Peter Schey, Rick Swartz, Michael Hooper, and Rulx Jean Bart. Ira’s goal was not only to initiate high-profile litigation, but to develop the capacity to elicit and train lawyers and lay members of the South Florida community to prepare asylum claims on behalf of the refugees arriving in the U.S. Ira, well-knew, that without the difficult, less glamorous work of preparing and presenting asylum claims in a professional and competent manner, we could not file a law suit against the government. He also wisely understood that lay persons and lawyers taking the asylum claims would inevitably become community activists for Haitians after hearing their stories. He brilliantly managed to turn a difficult civil rights lawsuit into a broad-based political movement that challenged the entire foreign policy establishment of the United States on the grounds of racial bias and inequality. The rest of the history is well-known as lawyers in Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, Jean v. Nelson, Haitian Refugee Center v. McNary and Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker consistently, repeatedly, and successfully challenged the government’s conduct by not only changing immigration law but the foreign policy of the United States toward Haiti.

Ira Gollobin was a modest man in all respects

Despite his brilliant organizing strategy, Ira Gollobin was also a modest man in all respects. He lived modestly. He dressed like a man who felt uncomfortable in a suit and tie. He spoke in the measured tones of a modest person. I can not remember Ira ever raising his voice. And his expressions of anger were more sardonic humor than personal affront. And he never over-indulged personally or professionally. Ira was so modest about his legal work and political accomplishments that he never mentioned, and I did not know until now, that he worked on such renown cases as Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Harisiades v. Shaughnessy — classic immigration cases taught in law schools through the United States. He also taught us something about how to live healthy lives. He never ate much. He asked me for a banana and an egg when he stayed at my home and we spent the rest of the day waiting for Ira to get hungry again. He never did.

I also had the good fortune of sharing Ira’s name. When I started practicing immigration law, people would come to my office and invariably confuse me with Ira. They would say: “I can’t believe that you look so young and have accomplished so much” or they would say: “I thought you were much older.” At first, I actually thought they were talking about me. Then I thought, how could they think I was in my sixties — do I really look that old already? Of course, today, rapidly approaching sixty, they do not say anything about my age — which is worse!

Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist. He taught a generation of activists, what good lawyering was. For those of us who chose law as a vehicle for change, Ira Gollobin was and will always be the standard to live by. His character, intelligence, and vision live within each of us and remind us that our duty is to follow his lead and to train the next generation of lawyers and activists.

Remembering Ira Gollobin July 19, 2008

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Peter A. Schey, Los Angeles, CA

President & Executive Director, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

[The following was distributed widely via Peter’s email list.]

Ira Gollobin, a renowned civil rights and immigration lawyer, who practiced law in New York City for over 70 years, acting as attorney in many high-profile immigration and extradition cases from the 1950s to the 1980s, passed away peacefully this morning in New York, following several days of hospitalization for a staph infection. He was 96 years old.

Ira served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law for 25 years. He was a long-time active member of the National Lawyers Guild. He will be deeply missed by those who were honored to meet and learn from him along his 96-year life journey.

Ira wrote numerous periodical articles on immigration policy, dialectics, East Asia, and Marxist theory. He is the author of Dialectical Materialism: Its Laws, Categories, and Practice (1986), and Winds of Change: An Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective of Fifty Years (1987).

Ira’s epic book on dialectical materialism is a comprehensive review of Marxist philosophy, integrated into subjects ranging from workers to politics to human consciousness. For those interested in the relationship between history, philosophy, politics, consciousness, and the struggle for freedom, this is a book you want to read. If you use a highlighter, forget it. You’ll want to highlight the whole book.

Ira served as general counsel to the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born throughout the McCarthy period. During the Cold War witch-hunt to identify and deport immigrant “communist sympathizers,” Ira and the American Committee coordinated the legal defense of immigrant workers, labor leaders, authors, and others for their real or perceived communist beliefs or associations.

In 1980 Ira put together a team of lawyers including Ira Kurzban, Rick Swartz, and me to work on the Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith case. Under his guidance, and with the help of many others, we won a major class-wide injunction that blocked an “expedited deportation program” initiated by the INS headquarters to quickly deport over 5,000 Haitian refugees deemed a “threat” to South Florida. After a class-wide permanent injunction that we won was upheld in the Court of Appeals (Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, 676 F.2d 1023 [1982]), the first Haitian adjustment act (which Ira and Rick helped draft and get enacted) granted all class members permanent resident status. Ira was the architect of this victory. In the last chapter of his dialectics book, a chapter on wisdom, Ira wrote:

Class society places its imprint on wisdom. The musings of the sage. . . and the guile of the rulers. . . have been acclaimed as wellsprings of wisdom, while the masses’ hard-earned experience and insights, gained in labor and class struggle amid a multitude of afflictions, have been denigrated by oppressors as responses, sometimes docile, sometimes violent, of beings little above the level of brutes. On the contrary, as regards the oppressed, those with the most practical experience are the wisest and most capable. All wisdom comes from the masses. . . . The wisdom of tens of millions of creators creates something incomparably higher than the greatest prediction of genius. (Quotations and citations omitted.)

Ira was a unique intellectual adventurer and a lawyer whose passion for justice was easily matched by his clients’ love and affection for him. We will miss him, and his guidance, very deeply. We will always treasure what he brought to each of us and to humanity’s struggle for emancipation.

A True Friend July 19, 2008

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Guy Sansaricq
Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn,

National Director of the Haitian Apostolate
Brooklyn, NY

Dear Ira,

I do not contact you easily yet I assure you that you are one of the people that I hold in highest esteem and affection. Your total dedication to the cause of Haitians has always deeply inspired me. You are a man with a big heart.

I feel very close to you as you mourn the departure of your good wife Ruth. It’s one of those moments in life that we dread but cannot prevent.

I do not dare offer you any special reflection or advice, as I know you are a wise man who certainly has his own appreciation of life’s moments.

I simply want you to know that in your large circle of admirers there is also one in Brooklyn who values you as a true friend and feels very close to you these days.

Ira Changed the Direction of My Life July 19, 2008

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Rulx Jean-Bart
Miami, FL

Dear Ruth [Gollobin-Basta]:

I can definitely say that my encounter with your father changed the direction of my life. I was a young man who had just finished grad school when I met your father in 1976. If I am in Florida today it is partly due to your father. I can still visualize that life-changing day, a late afternoon/early evening meeting with Ira and Father Adrien in a restaurant somewhere in Manhattan (maybe in Times Square). I think Ira was a “usual” there. That evening, they made me a scary offer that I could not refuse. I was asked to go to Miami to help the burgeoning Haitian refugees’ movement. My task, if I should accept, was to assist in organizing the Haitian refugees so they might play a leadership role in their own struggle. I was also asked to help organize support groups for the Haitian refugees and to assist the Haitian Refugee Center in becoming administratively and fiscally more responsible.

I knew nothing of Miami and I had just graduated from school. However, your father’s enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to the success of the cause made my decision easier. Through him I realized that I was becoming part of a movement that would protect, support, and guide me. That is why I left the comfort of my home to go to Miami with only two or three contact names and a lot of apprehension.

Your father, Ira, helped build a great movement that benefited millions of people and at least one country. But less than a thousand of those who benefited knew what he did! Ira and Father Adrien, on behalf of the Haitian refugees, put together a dream team of non-Haitians that had Ira Kurzban, Sue Sullivan, Betty Wigs, Mike Hooper, Rick Swartz, Peter Schey, and many others that helped with the legal and political aspects of the struggle. He did all that without being in the limelight. The interesting thing about your father is the fact that he sought causes, but never the spotlight as so many do. He was the invisible force, the strength behind many struggles. He chose to be in the background, in the shadow of those he supported, side by side, never in front, until the final victory. He was one of the backbones of the movement. Like an earthquake, your father could be felt thousand of miles from his epicenter (his office), although only those next to him could see him. Your father’s ability to build and support causes passionately and diligently without overpowering them made him a great and admired man.

I hope I shed some lights for you on your father’s past.