As AILA celebrates its 75th year, we invited members to “Share the Moment You Realized Immigration Law Was for You,” and we are delighted to share the second blog post featuring those moments; this post includes four members’ stories: 

“I realized immigration law was for me when I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State University where I worked as an admissions officer in the Graduate College. I had helped an Indian family with the admissions process and with the paperwork they needed to get their F-1 and F-2 visas. After entering the US on their visas, they came to my office and told me how grateful they and their extended family were for my help. They let me know that both their immediate and extended family members had pooled together the money they had to send him, the F-1 student, to college in the U.S. He was the first person in his family to go to university, let alone to the U.S. for graduate school. He and his wife were so happy and so filled with gratitude. It made me feel so good to play even a very tiny role in helping this student and his family achieve their dreams.   

My interest in immigration law continued to be affirmed when I interned for Farmworker Legal Services in Bangor, MI, as part of the Equal Justice Works’ Summer Corps during law school. The farmworkers would work so hard in the fields to provide for their families and, even though our services were free, they would often show their gratitude by giving us some of the fruit or vegetables that they had harvested that day.  

Even after becoming a U.S. immigration lawyer, I find my passion for immigration law is continuously renewed whenever I am able to use my knowledge and experience to help others.” – Sabrina Schroeder, WA State Chapter 

“Although my father’s family were immigrants from Finland at the turn of the twentieth century, I had not considered immigration law as my calling until I went to a meeting at a local church where a Salvadoran union leader described his experiences. It was sometime in 1981, after the murder of Monseñor Romero and the four American churchwomen.  

He spoke through an interpreter. He had been a leader in a campesino organization in his community.   Returning to his village up in the mountains from a protest in San Salvador, he saw smoke rising from the other side of the mountain. The army had come through his village and had left a trail of death and destruction. As he came closer, he saw his companion, who had been part of the organization, hanging upside down, tied by his foot to a tree with his gullet slit wide open. He fled El Salvador to the United States.   

That was the defining moment for me. Representing asylum seekers has been my life’s mission since that time. While in law school I volunteered as an “accompanier” to Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees. I work for a nonprofit community legal services organization. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling I have when a client is granted asylum or protection.” – Joyce Phipps, NJ Chapter 

“From the time I was 16 years old, I knew that I wanted to be an immigration lawyer. My high school had a senior year job-study internship program. I filled out a questionnaire about what I might want to do when I grow up. Some kids wrote that they wanted to be a teacher or a doctor. My father was a lawyer and attended law school at night for four years when I was a child, so I thought that I might want to be a lawyer too. 

My high school matched me up with AILA member Rhoda K. Dryer, who is still practicing immigration law in NY. I had dinner with Rhoda recently, we are still close. In 1981, my job at Rhoda’s firm was to answer the telephone, make copies of consular packets and adjustment packets, and sometimes collect information for forms or do filing. I was paid minimum wage—$3.35 an hour—and I was so proud and so happy with my job that when I was walking to work, I felt like I was flying.  Rhoda hired me every winter and summer vacation in college, plus during my first summer at Columbia Law School. 

After graduating, I practiced general litigation for about a decade and then I was a full-time mom for about six years. Then, fate redirected me to immigration law in December 2003. At that time, I lived in Michigan.  While at a local Boy Scouts event with my son, the parents chatted in the back of the room. AILA member George P. Mann asked me what I did for a living and I responded cheekily, “I used to be a lawyer, but now I am retired. I’m a full-time mom.” George told me I was wasting my brain and convinced me to work with him. When George told me he had an immigration law firm, I felt the hand of fate and knew that collaborating with George was meant to be. I recently celebrated 18 years happily practicing immigration law with George, fulfilling the dream I formed when I was a 16-year-old senior in high school.” – Maris J. Liss, MI State Chapter 

And watch Paul Parsons from the TX Chapter share his light bulb moment: