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Q&A with Carlina Tapia-Ruano of Tapia-Ruano & Gunn discussing her achievements in immigration law.

How did you get into immigration law? Were there any particular inspirations that spurred your interest?

I got into immigration law when I was employed by an immigration attorney as a law clerk while I was finishing up law school. Seeing his clients made me realize this was an area of law I could identify with since I was also an immigrant.
 
Who are your typical clients?

My typical clients, in very general terms, can be placed into two groups: they are either immigrants in the U.S. with immigration documents who wish to obtain other visa status immigration benefits or provide benefits to other immigrant family members, [or they] are immigrants who are in the country  with or without documents and are seeking legal status or defending themselves against being deported [or are] concerned they may be [facing deportation] proceedings in the near future.
 
What are some of your most recent or interesting immigration cases?

I have had about four cases involving persons, who are long-term residents in the U.S. who [are] registered to vote or voted in a U.S. election in error and were placed in removal (deportation) proceedings. The reasons for this is often due to negligent bureaucratic employees of the Secretary of State who registered them to vote without their understanding or consent. Winning their defense in a deportation case, and then representing them years later as they receive U.S. citizenship, has been amazing.
 
[I have also been] representing individuals from different educational and cultural backgrounds who have sought the right to continue their lives in the U.S. after demonstrating good moral character and unexpected academic achievements or community contributions.

Which qualities do you possess that you find particularly relevant/necessary for practicing immigration law?

I am an immigrant. I speak fluent Spanish. I understand what is involved in living in and appreciating more than one culture and having to leave the land of your birth and heritage for competing reasons. Most of all, I love practicing and teaching immigration law. I was a professor of law at the Illinois Institute of Technology Kent College of Law for over 10 years and taught one year at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.
 
What is your ultimate goal in your practice?

To assist foreign nationals in obtaining immigration benefits for which they qualify using my intellect, knowledge of the law, and creativity.  My constant objective is to have a role in improving the lives of individual people who wish to live in this country. The effort and its success are immensely rewarding. 
 
What kind of lessons have you learned along the way?

  1. Be persistent, and keep trying to accomplish your end goals by trying different approaches. 
  2. If you believe in your ideas and are willing to work hard to persuade others to your point of view, much can be accomplished. 
  3. People are fascinating no matter where they were born. They are both predictable and unpredictable. 

Are there any particular honors or activities that you are involved with?

In June 2006, I was elected as the first Hispanic (male or female) president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  AILA is a national bar association of over 14,000 immigration lawyers, teachers, and students. It was an honor to serve as their president. 
 
In 2004, I was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law degree by Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, when I gave the commencement address to the graduating class. 
 
Is there anything else that you would like to discuss before we conclude?

Seeing what is happening in today’s political climate and listening to our current leaders (including the president) is very upsetting to me.  I believe in the rule of law and in applying and enforcing our laws to maintain our strong and just country.  However, the selective enforcement of certain laws, discriminatorily applied to specific individuals because of their race, religion, or country of origin is appalling. Policies that are determined to dehumanize and frighten immigrants are not policies I will support. Today my work in defense of immigrants to secure the benefits they are entitled to is more important than ever.