AILA members are sharing their first person accounts of life and work at the moment – if you’re an AILA member, please email your 400-800 word submission to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. Thank you for all you do!
As immigration lawyers, we’ve never had it easy. For decades, we’ve had to deal with a tone-deaf Congress while appeasing an often indecisive and vision-less Executive branch, regardless of the Party in power. Indeed, our immigration system, our clients, and our practices have served as a political football that somehow and quite tragically never reaches the end zone.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has added new complexities to the multi-layered set of challenges that we’ve learned to live with as immigration lawyers. No, I’m not talking about the unfair, unethical, and sometimes illegal obstacles that various federal agencies throw our way while we grind the immigration machine. I’m actually referring to the stress and difficulties that clients we’ve sworn to defend and try our hardest to win for create for us.
The pandemic has suddenly and urgently altered how we function and behave as a society, forcing us to accept Covid’s freshly minted realities. Our clients are also experiencing the same set of stresses in addition to their existing immigration issues, and unfortunately sometimes they take their stress out on us and resort to behavior that is inappropriate even under these extraordinary conditions.
Last week, I spent almost 20 minutes wrestling with a disgruntled client who was not happy about a decision I had made regarding her case. Needless to say, I am on firm footing, both ethically and legally with respect to the decision at issue. Yet, she yelled, called me names, and used abhorrent language that under normal circumstances I would not have tolerated even for a few seconds. But these aren’t normal times, not even close as we all worry about COVID-19 and our families, businesses, and friends so I let her vent. I did have to ultimately end the call because the conversation wasn’t helping anyone. In the interests of clear communication going forward, I immediately sent an email advising her that in the future we’d have to communicate only in writing.
I was visibly shaken and felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. I first blamed myself for allowing the situation to get out of control. However, after I confided in a few friends/colleagues, I realized that in fact it was not my fault.
I also recalled that AILA had already integrated self-care sessions and panels in its local and national conferences. Covid-19 has only heightened the importance of these tools and resources for our community. Most of these highly informative panels were recorded and are still available online on AILA’s website, along with additional self-care-focused resources.
I feel that as members of the immigration bar, many of us have become accustomed to abusive behavior by the government toward our profession and our clients, that when clients do the same we sometimes let it slide or just don’t recognize it as abusive. However, regardless of the source, mental abuse causes deep pain and can be scarring.
For the next few weeks and months, we may not be able to meet in person as a community to support one another, but our friendships and collegiality within AILA are strong and enduring. If you feel unappreciated by clients or if you feel abused, know that you’re not alone. Call a friend, send an email, start a video chat, or join a virtual chapter meeting. I know I felt better after I shared what happened with friends and colleagues who form the supportive network we all need to lean on. We will survive this together and come out stronger at the other end.