AILA proudly welcomes this blog post from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Law Student Scholarship recipient Anthony Wong, part of a series intended to highlight the important ways in which diversity, equity, and inclusion inform immigration law and policy. More information about AILA’s DEI Committee and its important work is available on AILA’s website
From 2017 to 2021, the immigration law community experienced one of the most hostile presidential administrations in history. Since taking office in 2016, the former administration actively worked to pervert the US government’s role in immigration processing and to make the lives of practitioners and immigrants miserable in an attempt to stem the flow of both legal and illegal immigration.
Although the former administration was voted out of power, the proverbial gate was opened for a more cunning anti-immigration administration to come into office. With the House under Republican control in 2023, there is high possibility that we may see voters elect another Republican administration into White House and in the Senate in 2024. This combined with increasing geopolitical tensions in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific makes the foreseeable future extremely tenuous for practitioners and their clients as we may see an increase in nationalist and nativist sentiment worldwide.
As such, practitioners should recall the lessons and experiences of the past four years and make preparations to fight an increasing hostile U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and State Department if a new anti-immigrant administration does take power in January, 2025. This blog post lists out the three key lessons that I have learned and observed over the past four years, particularly the period of March 2020 to August 2021 prior to my departure to law school. My hope is that these lessons serve to build resiliency for practitioners to face what may be coming.
First, practitioners must assess their operations and prepare a playbook that reflects the best practices, the most successful approaches, and the various shortcomings for each case type at the height of the former administration. By doing so, practitioners will have a significant foundation to work from in the event USCIS and the State Department revert to a similar or even more hostile stance.
Second, practitioners must develop a better early warning system to identify potential impact events to operations. From my experience and my discussions with colleagues, there appeared to be lapse of or nonexistence of monitoring of ongoing geopolitical events or other potential high impact events that essentially blindsided practitioners and forced everyone to react rather than be proactive. A collective feeling of naïve optimism that the worst would not impact us is not a plan for success. Take for example, the Visa Bulletin becoming current in late 2020. With the historical low of immigrant visa applications abroad due to consular shutdowns worldwide, it would have been reasonable to infer that it was likely that the Visa Bulletin would have become current, and practitioners should have been preparing for an onslaught of cases. Let me stress that I do not intend to criticize here. What has happened has happened and we have all gotten through this for better or worse. The main takeaway here is to emphasize a fundamental tenant of our profession. We are legal professionals. We anticipate and mitigate risk. It is our job to play Devil’s Advocate and to prepare and expect the worst – no matter how unpleasing or unsettling it is to ourselves, to our clients, and to others that work with us.
Third, practitioners must take care of their colleagues. It is not a secret that we work in a high-stress occupation with a high burnout rate. This is the profession that we all willingly chose when we decided to go to law school and to take the bar or when we decided to seek employment with a legal services provider. Sure, there are times where the rubber must meet the road and the petition needs to be filed. However, it is counterproductive to allow circumstances to just burn people out and to replace them when they leave, or not at all, or to “outsource” the workload to contractors. High turnover can facture processes and procedures and damage the client relationship. By comparison, a happy and experienced team that has complete control over their work product is more efficient and willing to put in the work, as long as they are well compensated, have upward mobility, and are taken care of and respected, for the long term. Of course, I know that in the competitive world of legal services that clients look for the lowest bidder, but I counter that conventional wisdom by pointing out that there are firms where people would pay top-dollar for very excellent representation because the team will work to make sure that the client’s case is thoroughly presented and argued. We should all strive for that ideal and treat each other with respect and collegiality.
In sum, these are the three key lessons that I took away from my more than five years of working as an immigration professional. My hope and intention are to not to critique the immigration law community, but rather to suggest ways to ensure that we are more prepared to meet the next storm coming our way.