We are a nation of immigrants. When one person hurts, we all hurt.
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.