By: Wendy Castellanos, Vice President of Communications for Amiga
4 years ago my life was forever changed when my husband (then boyfriend) was detained by immigration. I remember rummaging through his house to find any information that could help his case. I had no idea what to do. I had never been in a situation like that. I was relieved to find a business card for a local immigration attorney; only to have my calls go unanswered because she was on vacation. I spent hours calling around and received different advice from every person I called. I was a nervous wreck while I watched as my husband was subsequently removed.
Fast forward to today and we are raising our family in Mexico to wait out my husband's bar. I have the pleasure of working with a wonderful attorney who jokingly says she "fell in love" with my husband before me since she met him before I did. It is that phrase alone that gives me peace of mind knowing that I am working with the best attorney for us. She has even visited my family in Mexico. I have come to find out that not all attorney/client relationships are that great. Based on my experience, here are 6 things I think every lawyer should know about what it is like to be a client.
1. We are scared.
Especially when it comes to deportation/removal defense. Call me naïve but I always believed that you could hire an attorney and everything would be fixed; all you had to do was hand over the money. I learned the truth the hard way. There was no defense in my husband's removal and I was powerless. Being powerless isn't a good feeling so we need you to be strong for us.
2. We feel like we're bothering you.
Even though I have a close relationship with my attorney, there are times that I still feel nervous about reaching out to her. I like to check in once every 6 months to make sure nothing has changed (and at the same time, hope that something has changed). I know she's busy so I try to make my phone calls to her as short as possible but I have so many questions. Please take the time to listen to us and answer our questions, even if it's the 100th time you explained it that day. It is our first time hearing it.
3. We are new to this.
The immigration system is confusing. The information is hard to understand. You may have handled this type of case for your entire career, but we did not know these types of issues even existed before now. I never knew anyone who had even been detained before. Then something like the permanent bar is thrown at you and it honestly makes no sense. I understand now that when it comes to immigration, there's no clear path and when it comes to a bar, all you can do is wait - but it took me several years to accept that. So bear with us and please be patient.
4. We don't know the in's and out's like you do.
601 - what? I130 - what? Sometimes talking to my attorney was like listening to another language. It felt so overwhelming. Then I'd log on to the immigration website and they make the process seem so simple - fill out this form, send your check and boom, you're a citizen! Try to help us understand your language. We want to know what it all means.
5. We get pressure from our friends and family.
To this day, I constantly hear that "Johnny's brother's friend's mother's uncle was able to get a green card, all he had to do was xyz…" So yes, I might ask again if the situation has changed because I'm hearing conflicting stories all the time. All the people around us tell us we are not doing enough and not doing the right things, and it is a lot of pressure. It doesn't mean that we don't trust you. We are just lost in the process. For example, my dad pushed me to write to our local senator because "she needed to hear my story." He truly believed it would make a difference even though I knew it wouldn't. I begrudgingly wrote the letter and all I received was a list of local immigration attorneys in response. He couldn't believe it. Please help us explain our case in a way that we can use to educate others.
6. We are affected by this 24/7.
Please over-communicate with us. Immigration is a problem for our families every single day of our lives. We never get a break. While you know it can takes months, if not years, to receive a response from USCIS, we still need to hear from you. At least check in to let us know there's no movement in our cases. Send us a letter communicating the process or send a quick email so that I have something to refer back to. Doing so gives us peace of mind and helps us feel secure. You may brush it off as 7 years left, but we are counting the days as they pass. Even though I've accepted that we've got years to go before my husband can return to the states, I never give up hope. Please don't fault us for having hope, even when you've given us the soul-crushing news that all we can do is wait for reform. Hope is all we have. Hope and our faith in you.
Wendy Castellanos is the Vice President of Communications for the Association of Mother Immigration Attorneys (AMIGA Lawyers). She spent 12 years climbing the corporate ladder at Nordstrom Corporate in Seattle, WA and was most recently an Instructional Designer. Due to immigration circumstances, she relocated to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where she is a proud wife to her husband, Eli, and a proud mother to her son, Max Elliott. For more information about AMIGA, follow us on Facebook and Twitter @AMIGALaywers and #AMIGALawyers, or email us at email@example.com.