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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    January 09, 2019

    Final Thought
    Coming to America: Dream or Nightmare?

    American immigrants and the lawyers who represent them are experiencing seismic shifts in their daily lives because of the unpredictable and ever-changing state of immigration law.

    Shabnam Lotfi

    We all know about the politically motivated attacks aimed at immigrants over the past two years. Children having been cruelly separated from their parents. Families live in detention centers, often for months, without adequate food or access to medical care. The status of DACA is in limbo, as ICE raids haunt families, who wonder if they will get to go home at the end of the day.

    Shabnam LotfiShabnam Lotfi, U.W. 2011, practices immigration law at Lotfi Legal LLC, Madison.

    For immigration lawyers like me, the legal landscape shifts under our feet daily. By statute, asylum seekers can enter the United States at any place regardless of whether it is a port of entry, but in a tweet, the Trump administration decreed that this will no longer be the case. The Muslim travel ban included a waiver process to protect nationals of banned countries who have strong family or business ties to the United States; in reality, more than 95 percent of visa applicants have been denied a waiver.

    It’s one thing to experience uncertainty in the law, it’s another thing to witness heartbreak. What the media do not cover enough are the personal stories of the families affected by these changes. Many of my clients are separated due to the travel ban. Though the details vary, the story is the same: law-abiding people are separated during the most important moments of their lives.

    One woman said to me, “I’m an American citizen. I work 100 hours a week as a pediatric oncologist. When I was pregnant, I needed my mother’s support. But she was denied a visitor’s visa. When I needed my government the most – when I needed my mother – America let me down.” Another client cried, “My father didn’t get to walk me down the aisle, and he’s never met my husband. My wedding album has no photos of my parents. The most important day of my life was ruined, and for what?” And yet another said, “I wanted my father to see me graduate. I wanted to see the pride on his face. But he died waiting for a visa.”

    These are the stories I hear every day. I meet hard-working, tax-paying, contributing members of society whose lives have been upended by politics. They’ve complied with every regulation, submitted the required paperwork, paid every fee, but nonetheless wait for years for a decision on their cases, not understanding why. Nor do they know when they’ll see their families again.

    Though the details vary, the story is the same: law-abiding people are separated during the most important moments of their lives.

    As an immigrant myself, I know there is a high price to pay for being an immigrant. Immigrants give up comfort, culture, language, and a sense of belonging in exchange for economic opportunity and freedom from oppression. Immigrants understand that they will experience hardship, sacrifice, and separation.

    But I wonder, when is it enough? Must asylum seekers be turned away at the border without a chance to have their case heard? Do security background checks have to take more than two years? Must our immigration system be so painful and slow that it leads to newlyweds divorcing and to people dying of old age while they wait to be reunited with their families? In the words of a world-renowned visiting scholar at U.W.-Madison, “Is the American dream worth it if it means I won’t see my family again?”

    Meet Our Contributors

    What is the most rewarding part of your job?

    Shabnam LotfiI live for the moments when I get to share case outcomes with my clients and hear or watch their reaction. The response is usually something like, “What? It’s approved?! I can’t believe it! I don’t know what to do with myself. This is the best phone call I’ve received this year. Thank you!” Or sometimes the client is silent and then I hear the sound of crying. I realize how much pain this person has been holding in and what a relief it is for them to finally obtain legal immigration status.

    Sometimes, a client feels so connected to you that they want you to be a part of their family. It’s the most rewarding feeling in the world when you can be the bridge that brings people closer to their dreams and aspirations or bring a family together during the most challenging moments of their lives.

    Shabnam Lotfi, Lotfi Legal LLC, Madison.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.

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