Did Your Experience As An Immigrant Play Into The Direction Of Your Career?
I never thought that I would practice immigration law; in fact, I resisted the idea for a very long time. I wanted to become an international human rights lawyer at the United Nations, but even the entry-level position at the United Nations is very hard to get, so I interviewed with several NGOs in Washington DC. However, they wanted to pay me only $38,000. That was in 2009, and it dawned on me that I didn’t have a job and didn’t know what I was going to do after graduating from law school. That’s when one of my mentors sat me down and said, “You need to practice immigration law,” to which I responded, “Why would I want to do that?” He said, “Because you make friends very easily, and that’s half of being an immigration attorney.”
After that, another mentor in law school gave me the phone number for someone who needed an Arabic speaker, and I ended up working for that person for six months. It was an internship, and then I got hired as a law clerk. When I passed the bar, I took over the other attorney’s job because he had left. I suppose the circumstances led me to immigration law, and when I started practicing it, I absolutely loved it. I could be making a lot more money doing something else, but I don’t do it just for the money; the sparkle in the eyes of someone who just got their green card or citizenship is worth millions. I know what it’s like, because I just recently went through my own citizenship interview (funny enough, the officers thought I was representing my attorney, not the other way around).
What Are Some Of The Most Pressing Issues For Those Who Want To Immigrate To The United States Right Now?
I believe that the US system lacks a long-term vision. I recently spoke to someone who received a master’s degree in information technology in the US, but is going to have to return to India because there are no visa numbers available for him to stay here. When people hear the term ‘immigration,’ unfortunately, they usually think of illegal immigration; they don’t think about the fact that immigrants are actually needed in order to keep the American dream alive—we need people who are doctors, IT professionals, etc.
The system in the United States is reactive rather than proactive. If immigration reform happens, it’s because we want to help 13 or 16 million people here. We want to support DACA because we’re getting political pressure. In most other countries, at least in the developing world, they know what they need. For example, in Canada, Australia, and Europe, they know how many professionals of a certain type they will need in a given year. One of my cousins is an engineer and the other is a nurse, and they just went to Germany because Germany needs engineers and nurses.
The US lacks a long-term vision for attracting the people it needs. Currently, there are so many DACA people who work in the healthcare field, and instead of offering them status, we try to take it away from them. In contrast, France just gave automatic citizenship to every single immigrant who’s working to fight COVID-19; imagine if the US were to do that.
The biggest impediment is the system, and unfortunately, a lot of immigrants believe that they can navigate it by themselves. However, it is a complicated system, and not having an attorney is a detriment. The USCIS director said that immigration law is very complex, and the person who actually learns to navigate it is worth their weight in gold. This is something I believe, and it’s why people need to hire someone who understands the system (which is something that even some immigration lawyers have trouble with).
If we were to simplify the system and base it on what type of immigrants we want, immigrants would have an easier time navigating it. The immigration court system is very complex, and we need a vision in the United States of attracting the people who we really need for building a future. One of the founders of Google or LinkedIn was on an H-1B visa or an L-1 visa and almost lost it; this is a person who spent millions of dollars on his work, and we were going to kick him out. I think the biggest obstacle to immigrants is actually the system itself.
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