• 29Mar
  • Lawyer lays down law for new immigrants
  • 3/29/2003
  • EL MONTE -- For immigrants who don't speak English, even the most routine transactions of daily life can be daunting.

    For them, there is no such thing as routine paperwork. Or a routine traffic stop.

    More complex matters, like buying a car or negotiating a divorce, can turn into nightmares, as cultural misunderstandings and ignorance about the American legal system compound an already tricky situation.

    Daniel Deng has spent most of his career listening to Chinese immigrants tell him their sad stories, first as a reporter for a Chinese-language newspaper and then as a criminal defense lawyer.

    He had long thought of compiling the advice he dispensed over the years into a book in the immigrants' native language, which would at least give them a start in dealing with the most common situations.

    "They don't know the culture, the government, the legal system to fight back,' Deng said. "There was no book teaching them what their rights are.'

    Deng's book, "American Laws 101 - A Handbook for Everyone,' hit the shelves of Chinese-language bookstores last December.

    Terence Tsang, general manager of the SUP Bookstore in Monterey Park, said the book fills an important niche among the handful of books that dispense legal advice to Chinese immigrants. Previous books were either outdated or were narrowly specialized rather than providing a broad overview, he said.

    "For $10, you can learn a lot from this book. Chinese immigrants who aren't familiar with the American system really need something like this,' he said.

    In addition to conventional topics like how to apply for American citizenship, the book includes sections on how to handle domestic violence disputes and how to prevent your children from joining a gang. More than just a handbook of basic legal advice, the book is a guide for how to negotiate life in a new country.

    Stewart Chang, a lawyer with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center who speaks Mandarin and works with Chinese immigrants, said his clients often lack even the most basic grasp of American legal concepts. Many assume that American law will be the same as the law in their native countries.

    "A lot of them believe they need their husband's consent to get a divorce. Or that the child automatically goes to the father,' Chang said.

    The book's publisher, Santa Clara-based Enlighten Noah Publishing, would not release sales figures, saying only that the book was doing "pretty well.'

    One recent immigrant from mainland China said in an e- mail to the author that the book gave him the resolve to stand up to his former boss and get the four months of back pay he was owed.

    "Just when I felt like I had nowhere else to turn, a friend bought your book for me. With the book's help, I realized that my old boss was trying to take advantage of my ignorance of the law,' he wrote in Chinese.

    Deng, 36, was born in Guangdong Province in southern China. He attended Shenzhen University for two years before transferring to Cal State Northridge, where he majored in journalism. He was a research assistant for "Fight Back with David Horowitz,' then worked for eight years as a reporter for Chinese-language newspapers, including the Chinese Daily News. He attended night school at Whittier Law School while still working as a reporter, opening his own criminal defense practice five years ago.

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