I love my job, I truly do. I get to help families stay together, I get to help people come out of the shadows and gain their independence, I get to help people achieve their American Dream. While these highs are amazing, the lows just as extreme. I have clients recently diagnosed with cancer, DACA clients scared to start families because their future is so uncertain, and families who are stopping the process at the very last stage because they’re scared their loved ones won’t come back from an immigrant visa interview in Mexico. This profession is a roller coaster and it’s been particularly loopy these last two years.
Advice I gave a year ago is no longer relevant and I fear that my clients think I’m either incompetent or a liar. I said they’d have their work cards in three months and now we’re at month nine. I told my U status clients in 2014 that they should have their case reviewed within 18-24 months and now the wait time is up to 43 months. I told a client last year that he had a strong case for humanitarian deferred action because he had a rare form of cancer where the doctors said he should have been dead six months ago…and then his case gets denied last month.
One of the things I like about lawyering is the predictability. I file X and should receive Y. But now, I feel as though I file X and I’ll likely get Y, but I could get Z. Or H. Or nothing at all. I’ve never been able to tell clients that their cases will be approved or that something will definitely happen, but I could give them a good idea. Those days are over.
What I can do, though, is a fight for my clients. No matter what obstacles the government throws at us, I will keep fighting. No matter how nasty the government gets, it’s always me and the clients on one side, united. I hope that my clients know that. I hope that they know I’m doing everything in my power to get their case adjudicated fairly and as quickly as possible, even when it seems like nothing is happening.
Our clients are understandably panicked and scared – they want stability and answers and they want them as quickly as possible. Sometimes clients vent their frustration and anger at us because they can talk with us and they can’t vent at a faceless bureaucracy. We also get the constant question of “why is my case taking so long?” – and the honest answer is that it’s not just your case that’s taking so long – it’s all of them. As frustrating as it is to hear that news, it’s also frustrating to give that news several times a day. I want our clients to contact us at any time and ask about their case, but…I also promise to share any news as soon as I have it. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time talking about cases instead of working on cases. I need to find a better way to communicate – that’s on me and we’ll be creating a new monthly email designed to provide updates on our most common case types so that clients feel more informed.
Compared to my clients, I have it easy. I get to come home at night, secure that ICE won’t be knocking at the door at 6 am and I get to come home from work knowing that I get to see my loved ones every evening. But I do wake up at night thinking about my clients. At 5 am, I’m laying in bed and thinking about my client detained – the one with a heart condition whose wife said sending back home will be a death sentence, yet I can’t think of a clear way to keep him here; I think about a case that USCIS erroneously denied and how to tell my client (who is a victim of domestic violence and starting to put her life together) that she needs to pay over $1800 to the government to get them to look at their mistake. But this is my profession and it’s what people trust (and pay) me to do. I still love it, but the challenges today are, well, more challenging than ever before.
I think it’s safe to say that it’s not the happiest of times to work in immigration law. Yes, the successes are so sweet right now…but the day to day grind of dealing with government unpredictability, insane backlogs, and cruelty…well, it’s taxing on us all. When I go home at night, I have to disconnect and not let the current state of affairs consume me. If you email on the weekend, know that I see it, but I won’t respond until Monday (barring a true emergency like someone is being put on a plane) because I have to balance and reset so I can come back to the fight refreshed and recharged. I am a lawyer, but I’m also human!
I know that this season will pass and we’ll once again be able to rely on favorable exercises of discretion, of efficiency and on kindness. These dark days won’t be here forever. But while we go through these challenges, let’s do it together – with patience and understanding. We’ll be stronger if we do this together.