I am heartbroken. It is Friday evening, hours after learning about the sudden passing of a legal hero, brilliant scholar and mentor to so many. In the decade I have been fortunate to call Michael a friend, I will hold onto the words of wisdom he has shared quietly on the phone or at the podium. He was a force in the legal field long before I had the chance to meet him, triggered by an email asking to engage on topic on which we are both passionate: deferred action.
I was also fortunate (w. Kevin Johnson) to collaborate with Michael on some projects related to deferred action and DACA including an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Regents case and commentary on the same.
As a mentor, Michael was the first to spark the idea, no wait, rather insist that I must write a book on prosecutorial discretion. He was passionate, poignant and determined in his words (w. Ediberto Roman). He was a devoted advisor over several years, naming the roadblocks, redlining the ideas, celebrating the victories — throughout this time I thought, ‘what have I done to deserve such unconditional support’? Michael, you personify unconditional.
What emerged at the same time was a friendship, one that I will miss the most. Over many hours, Michael and I spoke about health challenges, presidency, advancement, tenure, children, rock ‘n roll (I learned a lot!) marriage and more. One sharp memory was breaking bread with Michael and Tina at an AALS conference hotel and talking for hours. Another was helping to plan Michael’s retirement celebration (w. Steve Bender) in New Orleans, in the company of his wife Tina and beloved professors. Putting together an album and filling a parcel box to Santa Fe brought me so much joy.
Retirement was a big milestone for Michael. We spoke even more often then and during COVID from his home office in Santa Fe with a bookshelf in the back and a cover of his most recent book. Michael became talented in zoom and over the last two years sent me many invitations for his personal meeting room! I was grateful to host a book launch for Michael’s new book in the company of so many beloved friends in the immigration community who love and admire him.
It was during these times Michael also got to “meet” my children who he had seen in yearly holiday cards over many years but who were now in “zoom school.” And through zoom we spoke so many times, with Michael ending always appreciating our conversation and ready for what might come next be it a radio interview, concert or book project.
My whole family knew Michael not only because of zoom but also because of how much he meant to me and the role he played in my life.
Our last writing project together (w. Jennifer Lee) was to collaborate on a rewritten opinion of Plyler v. Doe which at this moment seems fitting as the last project together.
Michael persevered through the last week. And calling his home today, hearing Tina’s voice. Full of tears.
Your life springs hope, legend and love. I will remember you forever Michael and do my best to carry your legacy in every choice I make.