When I first began practicing law, I thought I knew everything I could ever need to know about immigration. I’d been a business immigration paralegal for several years before law school and had learned a lot about nonimmigrant visas and employment-based green cards. I’d assisted with processing the full alphabet soup of visa petitions as well as both family and employment-based immigrant petitions, adjustment of status applications, immigrant visa applications and naturalization applications.
When I passed the bar and began what would be a (thankfully) short practice as a civil litigator, I took on as much pro bono work as I could – looking for that same sense of personal impact on people’s lives that I’d had when working in the immigration field. I jumped at the chance to assist domestic violence victims residing at a local shelter. When it turned out that one of them was an immigrant whose abusive spouse was a U.S. citizen, I thought “how hard could it be taking on a pro bono VAWA-based I-360 petition?“ (Pretty difficult, as it turns out.) I needed evidence that I had never seen before and legal and counseling skills I’d never polished before. Without AILA and its resources, I could never have made it through those first pro bono immigration cases, and I definitely could not have made the eventual transition to the full-time practice of immigration law.
Even now, with more than a decade of experience as an immigration attorney behind me, the universe of what I do not know remains infinitely more vast than the universe of what I do. I am grateful daily for the tools AILA provides that empower me to represent my clients effectively: everything from obscure Yates (or Aytes, or Neufeld, or…) policy memos; to liaison minutes that fill in the grey areas; to publications that help me locate some arcane regulation that precisely answers my question. But most of all, I am grateful for the people of AILA, my fellow attorneys who give so generously and so often of their time, energy and passion in order to teach other attorneys how to make a positive impact in an immigrant’s life. I have never attended an AILA conference without learning at least one thing I didn’t know before I got there and I still never leave without making the acquaintance of at least one new and utterly fantastic AILA member.
And, now, in these (to put it mildly) challenging times, our association’s people power is more needed and more important than ever before. With our clients’ collective fate often seeming to hinge on the next White House-generated tweet or federal court order, we are called upon to push outside of our comfort zones and expand our knowledge base in order to react, respond to, and resist the unjust, unfair and inhumane application of U.S. immigration law and policy. Those of us who limit our practices to administrative filings may now need to become familiar with how to litigate when our clients’ applications and petitions are improperly denied. Those of us who have maintained a sole focus on business immigration may now need to consider expanding to removal defense in order to meet the immense need for legal services in that area. Those of us who have concentrated on family and humanitarian immigration options may need to learn more about potential nonimmigrant work visas that may be available to our clients.
For those of you looking to take on new types of cases, the upcoming AILA Fundamentals Conference in Denver is your game changer, with two full days of member-led introductory educational panels on topics ranging from family and employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to habeas petitions, asylum and removal defense. Or maybe you have a new colleague who would find it useful? Someone outside the immigration law arena but looking to help out with some pro bono efforts like that young litigator I once was?
I have to smile, ruefully, when I remember my naïve thought that I knew ‘enough.’ There’s so much more to learn and so much need for the smart, dedicated, and engaged members of AILA to be out fighting the good fight. See you out on the battlefield!