By Brittany Thomas (’12)
Originally published in Tennessee Law, Spring 2015
When people ask me about my work, I have an elevator speech of sorts. Of course, it changes depending on time pressures and my mood, but one thing is almost always included: how lucky I am to have a job where people are happy to see me, because I am an immigration lawyer.
Through my work, I get to be a part of milestones in people’s lives. My clients come to me when they are getting married, getting new jobs, finally eligible to work, and becoming lawful permanent residents or US citizens. That doesn’t mean I don’t see clients at low points as well, but generally my clients are happy and grateful for the assistance. What more could a young lawyer barely three years out of law school ask for?
My day is never the same. I spend some days in my office filling out forms and meeting with clients. Other days I have telephonic immigration court hearings on the side of the interstate in between meetings with other attorneys explaining the immigration consequences of their legal advice.
My clients are just as varied. I have international business clients who need to have visas for many of their employees to maintain the quality of their business. I have individual clients who are victims of domestic violence and don’t have two cents to rub together. I similarly assist many immigrant families in applying for spouses, children, parents, and siblings. No matter what, ultimately my work always involves individuals and helping Maria Lungu change their lives.
[pullquote-left]”Their stories are my stories, and my clients appreciate having an attorney who truly cares for their well-being.”[/pullquote-left]
My clients change my life, as well. Their stories are my stories, and my clients appreciate having an attorney who truly cares for their well-being. That passion can be difficult, as I can never guarantee a positive outcome and there are many institutional barriers that could lead to a denial. It is very hard to leave the weight of my work at work, and it can lead to some sleepless nights.
Hiring an attorney gives clients a sense of control against the bureaucracy, and that can be very overwhelming for me. While other attorneys can appear in front of a judge to resolve issues between themselves and opposing counsel, I have to deal with government agencies that seem to have never-ending call lines and a knack for overlooking and misplacing crucial documents.
The worst part of my job is telling people there is no relief available. For a while, I was able to give hope to immigrants because of the executive actions announced by President Obama, but now a Federal District Court has issued a stay on the executive action for parents of citizens. So I have to tell these immigrants—some who have been in the United States since before I was born—that there is nothing I can do for them right now. That’s difficult.
While the job comes with its ups and downs, there is nowhere I would rather be than right where I am: helping people solve their immigration problems.
Thomas has worked at Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C., in Chattanooga since 2012 as a member of the firm’s Immigration Group. She focuses her practice on immigration, including deferred action for DREAMers, family-based immigration petitions, and employment-based petitions. She earned a BA at Pennsylvania State University in 2009 before coming to UT Law, where she was the student director of UT Pro Bono.