I long for the days when practicing immigration law was routine. When I told people what I did for a living, their eyes glazed over in a similar manner as if I had said I was a tax lawyer or did mergers and acquisitions. No longer. Under the current administration, practicing immigration law puts you in the cross-fire between the big divide. Even the language used by the groups across the divide are different. One group’s “family unity” is another group’s “chain migration.” Guerilla war tactics refer to a fight where one side is much more powerful than the other, or asymmetric warfare. Seeking legal immigration benefits for my clients in today’s environment has the essence of that feeling because the attitudes and many of the changing rules seem stacked against the immigrants.
How will we survive this phase in our country’s history? First, it is imperative that we learn to separate fact from fiction.
Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. As a nation, we do value family and have traditionally valued family unity.
Second, what is the true purpose of the “us against them” mentality? What is the real concern at the root of this issue? Similar to a husband and wife bickering about turning out lights when leaving a room, there is a hidden argument that goes beyond our immigration system. It may be concern about the fact that America is becoming increasingly non-white and/or multi-cultural. Whatever the true concern, we should have those difficult discussions and resolve our anxieties about those fears.
Third, immigration lawyers should help inform the public about our immigration system, which very few people have much knowledge about. The U.S. has a population of 323.1 million people, and we get one million legal immigrants per year. Our immigration laws are a hodgepodge of laws, regulations, and policies that span more than a hundred years. The culmination of those laws doesn’t necessarily suit our country’s needs or that of the immigrants. Often, someone assumes that it is easy to procure a “work visa,” as if a foreign national could simply pay a fee and get work authorization. That simply is not how it works. The process is more like Cinderella’s step-sister trying to cram her foot into a tiny shoe as there are only certain categories for immigration with specific requirements.
In general, immigrants to the U.S. come through the path of family immigration or employment, except the 50,000 per year that are winners of a diversity lottery program for individuals from countries that typically send very few immigrants to the U.S.
Over the course of almost 20 years of practicing immigration law, I have learned that people feel differently about general immigrants than they do about the immigrants they actually know. This fact is true for undocumented immigrants as well. Clients are happy to tell you about Joe, who is a great person, family man, and who pays his taxes. Or Maria, who is a hard worker and the most honest woman you have ever met. Immigrants should not be viewed in the abstract. They are our neighbors, coworkers, mothers, fathers, and siblings. The most wholesome group of teenagers I have ever met were the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) teenagers—especially the young ladies. They were so well-mannered and organized with all of their school records, report cards, and class photographs, carrying notebooks of papers with them, as if to make up for the fact that they were “undocumented.” Seeing those young American children never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Right now, the futures of those promising young people are at risk. That is a sad fact for them but also for our country, because many of these young people are literally the “best and the brightest” America has to offer.
Now the United States Citizenship Immigration Service (USCIS) has begun reviewing all petitions with harsher scrutiny, and not just in terms of security measures. The service issues more requests for evidence and denies more cases than ever before. It feels like the door is closing to a crack, and we have to show that our applicants are just about perfect to be eligible for any immigration benefits, even temporary benefits. Individuals who are simply seeking an extension of their current status no longer get any deference in the processing for their cases. Efforts to make it more difficult to obtain congressional assistance in immigration filings are afoot, and the State Department is losing valuable employees important to visa processing and to assuring that the rule of law is followed.
Since when did Americans become afraid to compete with individuals from other nations? When did we stop considering ourselves as among the best and brightest in the world? U.S. universities are losing talent to other countries, and our whole society will suffer for it. I am certain that history will judge this time of xenophobia and isolationism harshly. In the meantime, we must adhere to the rule of law and hold our elected officials accountable.
Throughout this turmoil, I am comforted by everyday events. Naturalization ceremonies where individuals born in other countries are so proud to become American citizens that their faces light up with joy when taking the oath of citizenship. Seeing my law partner’s baby green card picture in our conference room and realizing that she came to the U.S. as a Hungarian refugee at three years of age when her mother carried her over a river to escape bloody revolution. Foreign-born doctors who will go to the smallest towns and rural communities to provide needed health care in the U.S. Sisters and brothers who are able to be together after waiting for 15–20 years for a visa to become available. Families who have joyfully adopted babies and young children from other countries.
It is in these heartfelt sights and many others that show people from all over the world have much more in common with each other than they have differences. Even in these dark times I know that inclusion and acceptance will prevail and that this period of time is an aberration in our nation’s history. As soon we as a nation will realize that Americans can compete on the world stage and that we do not need to hide in fear of our global society.
Amy K. Myers has been an immigration attorney for over 19 years, and prior to that time, practiced employment law. She practices with Tedrow & Myers Immigration Law Group in Birmingham, Alabama. Her practice is exclusively devoted to immigration for both family and business (with an emphasis on health care providers). A large focus of her practice is on business immigration, including all forms of non-immigrant categories, immigrant filings, labor certifications, Schedule A filings, and investor visas.