Ready, set … wait
Attorneys say they’ll be prepared to handle increased demand if immigration reform passes
August 28, 2013 6:00 AM
by Heather B. Hayes
Photo by Mark Rhodes
Immigration attorney Donusia Lipinski has seen different legislative efforts to overhaul the federal immigration system fail over the years, so she’s hesitant to get her hopes up about the possibility of a major reform package coming together this year — despite the fact that the U.S. Senate recently passed a version of a bill.
Still, Lipinski won’t give herself the luxury of waiting. Her Blue Ridge Immigration Law Center LLC, staffed by her and two part-time legal assistants, is focused on providing legal services to immigrants living in Warrenton and the outlying rural areas, including Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties.
When additional space in her office building came up for lease late last year, she grabbed it. Now her firm plans to hire attorneys and legal assistants who are fluent in Spanish, have a passion for helping people and are willing to work very hard.
“If reform goes through, we’re all going to be very, very busy,” states Lipinski. “It’s a risk, but I want to be ready. I don’t want to have to turn anybody away.”
Link to full article: http://www.virginiabusiness.com/index.php/news/article/ready-set-wait
PW: Tell us about your legal practice — how did you get started and what brought you to Warrenton?
DL: I’d been practicing immigration law for over 25 years. I was living in Colorado for many years and had a successful immigration law practice there. I love advocacy and community outreach so when I was offered a position with the national office American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington DC in November 2006, I jumped at the opportunity. I worked with members in the House and Senate, to craft immigratin legislation that was reasonable, rational, fair and orderly.
Much to my chagrin, I realized that for some members of both houses, there seemed to be more interest in furthering a political agenda than on working on legislation that was for the highest and best good of the country. I had very little patience or respect for I witnessed on the Floor. I left my position as the Associate Director of Advocacy a bit wiser albeit disillusioned, and realized that if we wanted change, it had to happen at the grassroots level, in the communities. I left Washington DC and decided to once again, open my own law practice where I could help people and businesses with their immigration questions, cases and issues. I also saw it as another opportunity to give back to the community and to provide factual information to my clients to help them better understand why our current immigration system isn’t working.
PW: Why did you choose to practice immigration law in Warrenton?
DL: After I left the American Immigration Lawyers Association I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to live. Initially I planned to live in Old town Alexandria Virginia, I was very excited about the location. I had everything in place and two weeks before I was scheduled to move, I got a call telling me that the owner wanted to back out. I was disappointed and also know that there are no accidents in life. What was I to do? Within less than 24 hours of finding out that I was not going to be moving to Old Town Alexandria, I had the most wonderful inspiration and vision. I saw myself opening an office in Old Town Warrenton. The vision and pull was so strong and the feeling about it so clear, that I couldn’t imagine it not happening. I didn’t know anyone in Warrenton; I hadn’t done any business in Warrenton, other than eating at a few of the restaurants here, but I just knew, in my heart (and gut), that I had to move here. It had all the ingredients … it was a small town, it had a Main Street, which is the heart of the town, it is beautiful, it is in the country but not too far from the City. I was born in the country, lived in a small town that had a Main Street and so this felt so much like home.
PW: So you knew no one here, you had no connections and you just had an inner prompting that Warrenton was the right place to be at that time?
DL: Yes, it was this very strong knowing that I had, and in fact I think when I was deciding where I was going after I left the American Immigration Lawyers Association and I never could have predicted in 2013 that I would be living in Virginia.
I signed my lease in 2008 and opened my office in January 2009 and everything, everything fell into place. I love living in the country and even how that all unfolded was almost a miracle. Everything just flowed. I looked at the demographics to see there was a population I could serve out here and with all the rural and agricultural land around here, I felt fairly confident I could be of service to immigrants, businesses, U.S. citizens and individuals who needed help with their cases before an immigration judge.
PW: How did you get your first clients?
DL: Before I even opened my office, another lawyer in town contacted me and had somebody who needed some advice and so that’s how I began. I had my first client even before my office was totally set up.
It’s interesting. Before I moved here there was a big law firm in Texas that was interested in working with me in setting up a satellite office here. Then there was a downturn in their economy and because they did a lot of business immigration, they decided this wasn’t a good time. I am so happy to be here. I joined a lot of the wonderful organizations and Chambers; have gone to a lot of meetings; do community outreach where I can; served on several non profit Boards of Directors and eventually people began to understand what an immigration lawyer does and they recognized that I am here.
I have many Hispanic clients because I speak Spanish. However, they are from all over the world … form Ghana, the UK, China, New Zealand, Germany, Thailand. I get calls from very caring and compassionate employers who want to help their workers get legal status. My work is varied, challenging. Interesting, frustrating at times and so rewarding.
Immigration deals with people and people have issues that come up in business, with marriage, divorce, crimes, family unity, travel, work, corporations, employment law, religion, domestic violence …. Immigration law touches on all these as well. Immigration is one of the only areas of the law that has such a diverse client base and you can work with people from all over the world and be part of their life. It is a fascinating area of the law.
Immigration lawyers work with people who want to bring their have fiancés to the State or their spouses, children, parents brothers and sisters; or with people who have flec their own countries on account of persecution for their own religious or political beliefs; we work with people who want to become U.S. citizens; or who are being threatened with deportation but have lived here for many years. And now I have the joy with young people between the ages of 15 and 30 who were bought to the States when they were under 16 and have been here since at least June 15, 2007. We file waivers for immigrants who have accumulated unlawful presence and who face 10 years away from their families unless we can show that their spouses would suffer extreme hardship. We get to see families stay together and live without fear. We also work with businesses who want to bring in workers from other countries and can’t find workers here even when they advertise and are willing to pay the prevailing wage. There are so many government agencies involved — the Department of State, The Department of Labor, the local department of labor, and immigration.
Then there are people who get in trouble with the state laws and might find themselves in deportation proceedings and are married or have U.S. born children. Sometimes I can find relief for them too.
I am so happy I can be here and provide my services to people locally.
PW: You are bilingual, right?
DL: Yes, I speak Spanish. I lived in Mexico for three years, off and on, teaching. I would come back during the summers to be with my family.
There are a lot of people living in fear. There is a lot of polarization and a lot of emotion around immigration and our current system as it exists. The product of our current immigration law is producing a generation of children who have been living here many many years and consider this home but their parents are undocumented. There are a lot of children living here in blended families, one of whom may be a US citizen or have their green card, and the other maybe without status. They are afraid to go to the store, or the doctor, to drop their children off at school, or to church. Many pay taxes, many love this country, many have been living here a very long time with laws that have not kept with the country and the global economy.
I hope this pushes us to look at immigration in a more human manner and to look at immigrants more humanely, so we can humanize the beings that are here, instead of calling them inappropriate names. To see each other as people and as individuals first.
We are a nation of immigrants. We have a lot of outdated laws that have been on the books since 1952. There have been so many amendments to immigration law that it becomes very complex , some parts are retroactive and others prospective. I hope people can see how connected we all are and that when one person hurts, we all hurt and all are impacted in some measure. I may have one of the best jobs in the world. I learn so much daily about the wonder of the human spirit, the resilience, the goodness of people.
Editor’s note: In a recent profile of a local immigration lawyer, FauquierNow.com introduced a client couple. This story updates their immigration status.
By David Lyne
The Princess is here to stay.
The immigrant bride of a U.S. citizen and Fauquier County resident she affectionately calls Cowboy got her birthday wish when her “green card,” giving her permanent resident status, arrived Friday in the mail.
(Cowboy says he must remain anonymous because his job with the U.S. government requires a high-level security clearance. Information about Princess, whose real name is Eva, can be revealed now that she is on her way to becoming a U. S. citizen. More about that later.)
“The first thing I did was cry, I was so happy,” she says about receiving the priority mail envelope containing the card “which really is green” from the U.S. Immigration Service.
Donusia Lipinski of the Blue Ridge Immigration Law Center in Warrenton, who guided the couple through the red tape of getting the green card, says she never has seen the process go so smoothly.
Ms. Lipinski accompanied the couple to the Dec. 2 “adjustment of status” interview before an immigration officer in Fairfax.
“We were told the green card probably would arrive in about 60 days. It came exactly one week after the interview.
That’s remarkable,” says Ms. Lipinski.
“I’m so happy,” says Eva. “My birthday is next week (Dec. 15). It’s all I wanted.”
The interview was “very quick, about 15 minutes,” says Eva, who was in this country on a six-month tourist visa when she and Cowboy married in August after a two-year transatlantic courtship.
After the immigration officer confirmed information on the green card application, says Eva, “she asked us when we met, when we started dating, how we stayed in touch, when we got married. That was about it.”
The couple credits Ms. Lipinski with getting all the paperwork in order to make the process go smoothly. “She has been great,” says Cowboy.
Eva’s green card does come with a couple of conditions that are required by Cowboy’s employer.
“We have to stay married for at least two years, and she must become a U.S. citizen within two years,” he says.
(Normally, green card recipients have three years to apply for citizenship.) Also, she cannot leave the U.S. for longer than a year within the two-year period; he cannot be out of the country for more than 60 days at a time.
The beaming newlyweds anticipate no problems in meeting any of the requirements.
Now about Eva
She is from Barcelona, Spain, where she met Cowboy when they crossed paths professionally in 2009. Her mother, married to a Spaniard, is a U.S. citizen because she was born here to immigrant parents, but she lived in the U.S. for only two years. Eva has three siblings. She is a civil engineer who has experience as a project manager and “can design and build. I do buildings, not bridges.” She also speaks Spanish, French and English.
“This will be my first Christmas away from my family,” says Eva. “I will miss them, but now I have a new family.”
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