On October 12, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions complained of “dirty immigration lawyers” when speaking to the agency that operates our immigration courts. My experience as an immigration lawyer and working alongside my colleagues in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has been much different than the one Sessions portrays.
Every day AILA attorneys work with clients to shore up families, protect the vulnerable, and unlock doors in the way of their dreams, as we explain their options under the law. Our training enables us to understand, explain, and use the law to its fullest potential for the people we represent—just like any lawyer practicing any other type of law.
Another important responsibility we take on is to inform the public of the workings of the current immigration system and what it means to be an immigrant on a human level. This involves reaching out to reporters, writing opinion pieces, and blog posts like this one. While the debate over the right direction to take our country’s immigration policy rages on, we have names, faces, and dreams that are connected to, and depend on, the direction our country decides to go. We have to be careful sharing information about clients and make sure they know there are risks and benefits associated with taking their story public. Sometimes that means we use pseudonyms, or first names, or decide that it is too dangerous to share a story. First and foremost, we serve our clients.
So, when a reporter from The New York Times reached out asking for a Dreamer who could speak to what the president’s wind-down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would mean at the individual level, we immediately knew who she needed to meet. One of our clients, in particular, fit the bill: Diana Vargas Zuniga is an 18-year-old who has resided in the United States since she was an 18-month-old child. Like all our DACA clients, the United States is the only home she has ever really known. Despite the limitations her lack of status has imposed, Diana is a “dreamer” in every sense of the word. A good student, Diana found her passion in a computer-integrated machining program at Alamance Community College in North Carolina. The DACA rollback announcement could have been the end of her ability to complete college. With her work authorization and thus her job at a local daycare about to vanish, and Diana forced to pay out-of-state tuition, it looked like her dreams were about to be dashed. She shared her story, despite the risks, demonstrating the courage and bravery that so many Dreamers have shown.
We heard just days ago from the reporter again – the profile of Diana resonated and elicited a response we did not expect. A generous donor in California was moved by Diana’s story. They reached out to Alamance Community College and paid for the rest of Diana’s program. A $10,000 barrier was removed, just like that.
We all have stories like this. The clients who have wrenched our hearts and who make us fight ever harder for them every day. Standing for them, standing with them, is another facet of our work as immigration lawyers. You never know when someone across the country or down the street will be moved to action, lit by a spark from a client’s situation.