Attorney Megan Galicia and I recently traveled to Los Angeles with our client Luis for a private screening of the new Netflix docuseries “Living Undocumented” with executive producer Selena Gomez. Luis, his family, and we as his lawyers, are featured in the documentary. At the screening, we had the great privilege of meeting other immigrant families featured in the series—people we felt a deep connection with after watching their stories. After the screening, we were ushered into a reception, where, to our delight, people were vying to take photos with Luis. Think about how often the people we serve are marginalized, scapegoated, and made invisible. Luis felt so special that night (and he is). Don’t you wish every one of our clients could have the experience of being treated like the stars that they really are?! It was so fun to watch.
I was also profoundly impacted by the response Megan and I got from the viewers about the importance of our work. The resounding message was: THANK YOU FOR THE WORK YOU DO. Countless strangers approached us with tears in their eyes and hugged us like old friends. Members of the film crew who had watched the footage for months on end confessed they were never able to watch the scenes without crying. We heard so many kind words of gratitude and admiration for being immigration lawyers at this time in history. People asked us, “how do you do this work?!’, “Aren’t you exhausted?”, “Isn’t it so heart-breaking?” To which we answered, “Yes!”
Yes, at times, we’re heartbroken and tired. Exhausted actually. If you’re an AILA member, undoubtedly, you are too. You lose cases now that you used to win and even the “straight-forward” cases are infinitely more difficult. The onslaught of constant bad news and injustice is demeaning and demoralizing.
But the message we heard again and again at the screening is that as we continue to fight, the world is watching. People we don’t even know are amazed and inspired by our work. They are wishing us luck and sending all of us prayers. They are saying things like, “the world needs more people like you.”
So remember that. We are hope. Not only to our clients but also to a hurting world that is in desperate need of examples of the goodness of humanity. A humanity where we help our vulnerable brothers and sisters. A humanity that speaks truth to power and stays in the arena even when everything is falling apart. Right now, we, the immigration attorneys of America, are the proverbial people “In The Arena” that Theodore Roosevelt spoke about (adapted below and emphasis added):
It is not the critic who counts; not the person* who points out how the strong one stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
So take the credit you deserve. You’re still in the arena. Every day you wake up and you choose to continue to fight. Day after day you listen to and counsel your clients. Perhaps you take their hands to comfort them or have to excuse yourself after a particularly difficult consultation to grieve at the hopelessness they feel and the inflexible system they are confronting. Maybe you find yourself awake at night wondering how much longer this will go on or how long you will be able to go on. We are with you. And so are countless others you will never meet. Their message is one of gratitude and admiration for what we do, and we hope you take that to heart.
For our part, we are honored to be your colleagues. Thank you for choosing to stay in the fight in a time where our proverbial “faces” are marred, dirty, and bloody (well, in my case it was actually a bloody leg and a broken foot but you get the point!). We are tired but grateful. Thank you for being the world’s heroes. You’re our heroes, too.
*From the author: We took the liberty of making this quote gender neutral because…well…it’s 2019.