Immigration Lawyer: Humanizing the immigration process
Last week, I was honored to have an interview published in J-Vibe Magazine, which focuses on stories and issues that impact Houston. My interview was titled Humanizing the Immigration Process.
There is so much I have to share about my experiences working with immigrants to the United States. A large portion of my desire to help people with their immigration issues comes from my own personal experience of having lived in another country. Between my junior year of college and my first year of law school, I spent about 3 years in China. While there, I experienced a variety of emotions – I felt almost infatuated with my new surroundings and their differences from my home. I felt unsure of how to conduct myself as I learned that a completely different set of habits existed in this new place. I felt doubtful about how to communicate as I stepped off school grounds or away from my friends to do anything from run errands to travel to a tourist destination. I felt angry when it was obvious that I was being singled out, or talked about as if I couldn’t understand what was being said about me. But I also felt amazed that people who spoke a totally different language and had a completely different culture could stop to help me – someone so obviously different – to find a bus stop or explain to a store clerk what I needed. I felt heartened that despite my differences, the people around me listened and tried to understand me as I struggled to speak their language. I felt grateful for the warmth and hospitality I was shown as someone who many Chinese considered a guest from another part of the world.
During my second year of law school, I worked with Political Asylum Project of Austin (PAPA, now American Gateways), a nonprofit group that specifically works with immigrants. It struck me how differently the United States treats people who are from other countries. We do not tend to view them as guests who should be made welcome. At best, we respect their desire to be a part of our country and contribute. At worst, we employ a staggering amount of resources to stop them from getting authorization to come here, or to send them away. When we meet a person who hasn’t mastered the English language, we get frustrated with them, while in China, I found that even my relatively poor Chinese was accepted, and many considered it a huge sign of respect that I had endeavored to learn their language at all.
It is true that there are those who do not respect our rule of law in the United States. Our immigration system, beginning with Consulates and Embassies and going all the way to our immigration offices and courts in the United States, has many ways of challenging these individuals as they seek status here. But at the same time, I realize that we are all human. When a person comes to my office and acknowledges a mistake made in his past, or a failure to understand the time he was allowed to stay in the U.S., it is a problem that will have to be addressed. But I can easily look back to my days overseas and ask myself, would I have known that if I didn’t leave at a certain time there would be serious consequences? Did I understand that my status as a student, or as a person with a work visa, had limitations on where I could study or work? The truth is, I was a naïve twentysomething, and I didn’t. And the U.S. immigration system is harder to navigate than most other countries, so my clients are struggling harder than I ever had to.
I practice law for many reasons – I enjoy challenges and love to take a difficult situation and resolve it. I enjoy working with people to help them achieve the results they want. I like to solve problems. I practice immigration law because I know how difficult navigating the U.S. immigration system can be. Thanks again to J-Vibe for speaking with me about the things that motivate me to do this work.
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