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 third blog post featuring those moments; this post includes four members’ stories: 

“My epiphany, like most of us, came to me in the early part of my career. But, maybe unlike some others, it came to me in the halls of the Miami immigration court, right after I had lost an asylum-based removal case and my client had been handed an order of removal.

Up to that point I had been a reluctant immigration attorney. It was not my first choice of law in which to practice, or even my second, or third. Rather, I fell into immigration law based on my having followed bad advice, but that’s another story.

My client, a Colombian, had requested asylum based on members of the FARC having shot and killed his father in front of him and his family. Simple, right? Well, at that time, any money provided to a guerilla group was considered collaboration and a bar to asylum – even if it was paid as ransom or to keep the FARC from returning and murdering another family member. Such was our case. I, of course, had explained this to my client before we went to trial, but he insisted nonetheless.

At the conclusion of the merits hearing, the judge read out his decision to deny the claim. Never having been trained on how to break bad news to a client, I was grateful that it wasn’t me that had to explain that we had lost. Instead, the court’s interpreter simultaneously translated the judge’s decision.

On the way to the elevator, my client patted me on the back and thanked me… What?? I actually became irritated, thinking he had not understood we had lost and that, now, I was going to have to explain it to him. When I began to do so, he stopped me and told me why I practice immigration law, almost 25 years later, when he said, “No, Mr. Blanco, I think it’s you that doesn’t understand. I know we lost. I knew we were going to lose, you told me that. But after all my family has been through, and after no one was willing to help us, I just wanted to be able to tell my story. I just wanted people to know that my father’s life meant something.”

So, it’s not about the wins, and it’s certainly not about the money. It’s about the people we serve, the people to whom we can provide some sense of dignity. I’m still in debt to that client because, to date, it’s the best loss I have ever had.” – Samuel D. Blanco, South Florida Chapter

“As the daughter of immigrant parents with a Catholic Franciscan upbringing, I knew I wanted to help others as a lawyer. However I never thought of immigration law especially since my immigration law school class was incredibly boring. After graduation I desperately needed a job amidst the recession of 1991. A friend referred me to a non profit organization which engaged in immigration family and labor based cases. Soon after I started, immigrants fleeing persecution in Haiti and Peru began seeking assistance. In tears, individuals told me of how their parents, siblings and other family members were murdered in front of them. This is when I realized how lucky I was to have been born in a country where I was free and had everything I needed. This is when I realized that with my skills, I could help others who were less fortunate than I. I convinced my supervisor that I could learn how to do asylum cases and attended a training program at the local bar association. I helped expand their services to extend humanitarian based relief. I realized that I wanted to dedicate myself to help immigrants through compassionate and effective representation. In 2021, I celebrated my 30th year as an immigration law practitioner.” – Patricia Allel, New York Chapter

“I realized immigration law was for me while reading statutes, CFR provisions, and federal case law and finding the topics very interesting.” – Sebastien Rogers, WA State Chapter

And watch Jennifer Ibanez Whitlock, AILA Policy Counsel and member of the DC Chapter, share her light bulb moment: