When my father fled Iran in the 1980s and applied for political asylum in the U.S., he did so with the help of an established immigration attorney. Despite the strength of his case, he knew better than to try and navigate the system himself. Even then, the process was excruciatingly difficult, especially for non-native English speakers.
I was only a year old when he escaped to Turkey, and it took roughly three years for my mother and all of my siblings to join him in the U.S. after his asylum was granted. That entire time, my mother was raising four kids alone in Iran. (She reminds me of this every time I complain about juggling a solo practice and two kids.)
Even as a young child, I understood the power of our immigration attorney. She made the difference between life and death for my father and united us with him somehow despite there being no American consulate in Iran.
So when it was time for me to choose a career path in college, I knew I wanted to become an immigration attorney. It didn’t take long for me to get my opportunity to pay it forward.
When I was a 3L student attorney at the UB Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, my first case ever was for a U Visa for a battered Honduran woman, which was thankfully granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Her son, following to join as a derivative, wrote my small team a letter in crayon explaining how one day he wanted to become an immigration lawyer like us. My heart swelled with pride. It was the first time ever I felt like I truly changed someone’s life.
Fast forward to 2017, and I’ve had the opportunity to help many families reunite, and I’ve even had the chance to shake the boy’s hand who wrote that letter in crayon, now that he is a teenager and flourishing in this country.
That’s not to say that immigration practice itself is glamorous. There’s usually no shortage of clients, so that is a plus, but the field itself is incredibly complex, and at times, seemingly impossible. The law is constantly evolving, and with multiple agencies involved, it often feels like you’re Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Every time you think you get a handle on it, anything can happen (cue the executive order!) and you have to rethink strategy. But that’s why it’s so important to stick with it. It never gets boring, and the clients need you.
If you want to learn more about immigration law and its different players, I welcome you to attend the joint event being held by Maryland State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section and the Maryland Association for Justice’s Immigration Law Section on May 18 at the University of Baltimore School of Law. MAJ is also having an Immigration 101 seminar on June 2 in Columbia, which will cover the ins and outs of immigration law and the resources you need to practice in this arena.