A little before Thanksgiving, one of our immigration clients came for lunch. She had reached out to say that she wanted to thank her legal team. We ordered tacos and sat together in a conference room. She cried, not from sadness, but from overwhelming gratitude. “You made my life possible,” she said. “Without you, I wouldn’t be here.” Her lawyers talked over one another to say that we’re the ones who are grateful, that we feel lucky to know her.
But that doesn’t begin to cover it. She was 15 when we met her and had already suffered sexual assault and witnessed the murder of her father. She had guided her younger sister through a dangerous journey to the United States, and when they crossed the river, immigration agents had arrested them and initiated removal proceedings against them. Even with counsel, she had been denied two separate forms of relief. The team had moved for reconsideration and filed multiple appeals before finally securing a green card for her. She had waited and waited and waited to find safety here.
Yet she is incandescent. “How is my English?” she asked. “I am getting better, no? I am studying to be a paralegal. Because of you! Because I want to be like you and help people like me!” Her smile is a beacon. She is so bright that you almost have to squint to look directly at her face. She is a logical impossibility.
What is more, she is not alone. The firm received an award at the end of 2019 from Make the Road for our work on behalf of young immigrants, and the room was full of them. We realized quickly that this was not your typical awards event. The food was homemade, and people kept bringing more trays of it. There was overeating, loud music, and dancing. Teary grandfathers hugged us after the award presentation. Small children offered desserts. The crowd kept breaking into chants of “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”).
Well then, so can we. We can keep using our skills to create reasons for celebration. We can learn from our clients, not only how to get back up, but how to dance when we rise. We can take steps to make the law better for people we may never even see. We can stand beside our nonprofit partners when they are tired and defeated. We can show our gratitude to everyone who does this work and everyone who makes it possible. We can find ways to engage others in the effort, and we can invite them to the party when we win.
Chair, Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest