David Neal

As we say in the beginning of Story #2, in a scene where a faxed resume is expected, “We arrived in Sam Brownback‘s office just as they were hiring David Neal. . .”

David turned out to be an immigration law specialist with long credentials on both the policy and practice side, and a real-life personal connection to refugees, through his Cambodian wife Mai. (Mai is a double refugee, first from the Killing Fields of Cambodia, later as a boat person from Vietnam.)

David later told us, "I had interviewed with Sam the week before. On the morning of September 11th, from my office window, I watched the plane hit the Pentagon. It's a little hammy, BUT with the patriotic blessings of my naturalized citizen wife, I took a job on Capitol Hill at a time when terrorism had just entered the public consciousness and people were keenly aware of the target the Hill had become."

For David Kensinger, Senator Brownback‘s Chief of Staff, David Neal brought two huge pluses along with his expertise -- degrees from Ivy universities, a law degree from Columbia and a Masters from Harvard Divinity School. He seemed a dream candidate for the job of Chief Immigration Counsel, at a moment when immigration was a central focus for the senator from Kansas.

So David Neal started life on the Hill about the time we did (in our way) and we like to think that we learned together. Esther Olavarría, David‘s counterpart in Senator Kennedy‘s office, quickly became his great friend -- and the wise, experienced teacher, leading David through the mysteries of Congress. But David was an old street fighter from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he learned to take care of himself, and his boss‘ interests, pretty quickly.

The story of that year, though, turned out to be that doing that wasn‘t so easy. Late 2001 was a momentous time for the country. The Senate‘s responses to the 9/11 attacks, anthrax, the country‘s entry into two wars -- all this colored every other initiative a senator might have wanted to push. And that‘s what happened to David‘s brief.

So besides the fact that he is truly the kindest person you‘ll ever meet and probably the only one who was thoroughly enthusiastic about the idea of a film that would explore the democratic process from the turret of a Senate staffer (which we adored him for seeing) the thing that struck us most deeply about David was his sense of honor and his loyalty. He understood perfectly that he was there, in the US Senate at that remarkable time, to promote and defend the legislative agenda of Senator Brownback, a man he admired deeply, whatever obstacles arose. And that‘s what he did.

Originally we thought David‘s story would be a single film in the series. We started it with the working title, “The Two Davids”, for David Neal and his Chief of Staff. It was just too big, though, that intersection of policy and politics. So now it‘s three films! (#2, #3,#4). And David Neal has stayed true to his, and Senator Brownback‘s, ideals.

David was appointed the nation‘s Chief Immigration Judge in March of 2007, and Acting Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals in January of 2009.

David Neal appears in Stories 2 Mountains and Clouds, 3 You Never Know, and 4 Sam in the Snow
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