The Loneliness of the Immigration Lawyer


Susan Church, an immigration attorney in Boston, ended the first week of the Trump administration arm in arm with protesters at Logan Airport, resisting an executive order banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. But what happened the next day, away from the public chants of “Let them stay!” was more typical of what the life of the former chair of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) was to become under the Trump administration.

Church and an associate filed an emergency lawsuit to secure the release of immigrants from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. “I got a federal judge on the phone, you know, on a Saturday night at eight o’clock.” The judge told Church to go to court immediately. An hour later, the attorneys were in court defending their clients.

“For me, that was the canary in the coal mine about what the rest of my four years under the Trump administration was going to be like,” Church said. “It’s just a nonstop series of emergency litigation filed to try to rescue one or 10 or 100 or 1,000 people, depending on which issue it is.” Eventually, the speed of the work, and the physical and mental exhaustion it triggered, landed Church in the hospital. “I thought I was having a heart attack,” she said.

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Church stayed with the fight to reunite parents with their children. She described the process of taking affidavits from clients, which require she learn every harrowing detail of a client’s trauma. In one instance, CBP ripped away one woman’s eight-year-old daughter at the border. “She had to comb her daughter’s hair and change her daughter’s clothes and put her on a bus and say goodbye to her,” Church said through tears. The two were separated for nearly two months, even after the mother was released from detention.

Church was able to reunite her client with her child, but the episode—like many, many other cases—weighs heavy on her shoulders. “I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same person that I was beforehand,” she said.

Four years into this migration crisis, there’s a parallel migration under way—of immigration lawyers out of the profession. Survey data and interviews the Prospect conducted with more than a dozen lawyers around the country reveal the physical, mental, and financial toll endured by members of the bar. Given the extreme violence, trauma, and inhumanity their clients often endure, immigration attorneys don’t like to talk about how it affects them. But secondary trauma also leaves a mark, making it impossible to continue for some attorneys. Although numerical data is limited, there is evidence that some attorneys are cutting back on some types of cases, such as deportation defense work, or even leaving immigration law altogether. Removal defense casework is one of the most time-intensive, emotional, and exigent parts of lawyers’ loads. It’s also where the administration has aimed much of its cruelest policymaking, severely limiting lawyers’ efficacy.

Under the Trump administration, immigration law has changed not only profoundly, but also so rapidly that it’s hard for immigration attorneys to keep up. Susan Church—and several other attorneys interviewed for this article—described combating Trump’s policies as a game of whack-a-mole.

There are family separations, and unsuccessful efforts at reunifying them. There are draconian limits to asylum, and reclassifying of entire Central American countries as holding zones for would-be asylum seekers. There are new clamps placed on every aspect of legal immigration, and deportations of protected migrants who have lived here for decades. During the pandemic, refugees are barred from entering the country, while deportation planes continue to take off.

In just the last two weeks, the administration has implemented an expedited removal policy to enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to more easily deport people; implemented rules that limit asylum eligibility; and introduced new restrictions on visas. Some have attributed the acceleration in part to a sense that this may be the administration’s last chance to mold immigration policy.

Throughout every change, lawyers have defended their clients, winning some cases but losing many more than they had previously. This has led some to feel a sense of futility, and to rage against the system through activism. Others wonder if their work makes any difference in a system designed to block all immigrants, and whether their participation legitimates a system they see as completely unjust.

The burnout and depression exemplify the administration’s insidious and deliberate assault on the immigration bar. It’s a system designed to add hours and expenses to every case, creating uncertainty about the law itself, injustice in the courts, and the ever-present risk and emotional fear that a client might get deported and killed.

“The big story is that all of these changes that the administration is putting in are not just directly targeted at immigrants themselves,” explained Austin Kocher, a faculty fellow at Syracuse University whose research focuses on immigration. “They’re quite targeted at destroying the immigration law profession.”

Under the Trump administration, immigration law has changed not only profoundly, but also so rapidly that it’s hard for immigration attorneys to keep up.

THIS “WAR OF ATTRITION” on immigration attorneys, as some academics are calling it, demonstrably harms clients. The odds of winning asylum are five times higher if the applicant has an attorney—and not only because lawyers are more likely to take stronger cases. For immigrants without representation, 90 percent of cases are denied, a number that’s remained steady since 2010. For women with children, having an attorney makes a 14-fold difference. For the last few years, however, roughly half of asylum cases go unrepresented.

While vicarious trauma and burnout are facts of life for immigration lawyers, the financial stresses of the industry are also taking a toll. For example, all of Church’s work on family separation and emergency filings has been pro bono. The cases have doubled her workload for the same amount of pay. “So it just blows up your practice,” she said. “It blows up your ability to manage your caseload. It blows up your financial situation, right? But I can’t not do it.”

Church’s husband, a partner in her practice with a thriving caseload, enabled the couple to stay afloat. But not all immigration attorneys have been so fortunate.

The 15,000-member AILA’s survey of its attorneys received more than 1,200 responses. Some results, which show financial data from 2018, were shared with the Prospect. More than half of respondents were solo private practitioners. Most of these attorneys charge flat fees to clients for their services, rather than an hourly rate. But if their cases take more time, as they have in the Trump era, they can’t increase their fees to their largely low-income and working-class clients. Rapidly changing administration policies have dramatically increased the amount of time required for even the simplest cases, let alone time-intensive asylum and removal defense litigations.

Although many asylum seekers or other immigrants with little to no financial resources find help through nonprofit firms or lawyers willing to take on the work pro bono, others must scrape together the funds for a private attorney. While the fees may be low for the amount of work required, $7,000 to $10,000 is still a lot of money for many immigrants. Virtually all immigration firms use flat fees for their work, and develop payment plans where clients may pay as little as $50 a month. But even so, not all clients can come up with the money—which means many may not be represented, or if they are, the lawyers might not get paid. To make the business model work, most private law firms split their practices between business and family immigration, with a more secure payment model, and services such as removal defense, where payment is more uncertain. (A recurring plague in the field is “notario fraud,” where individuals posing as lawyers exploit immigrants in need of legal services, charging exorbitant fees for fraudulent services and leaving immigrants distrustful of actual attorneys.)

In 2018, between 28 percent and 39 percent of those surveyed by AILA changed their rates for at least some services, with the majority increasing fees. The most common practice area where attorneys raised fees was asylum/removal defense. But under Trump’s fast-changing policies, those cases are taking double or triple the amount of time they used to, while attorney’s fees are only going up by about 15 percent.

Two years ago, San Francisco attorney Christine Stouffer said she shifted to hourly rates. With the constant change, she said, there was no way for her small firm “to really make it viable.”

Nearly every private attorney interviewed for this article said that they had raised their fees for at least some services during the Trump administration. “They have this huge backlog of cases that are not moving off the shelf that they are ethically responsible for and that they are not getting any more money for,” explained Charity Anastasio, immigration practice management adviser at AILA. “And so they have to keep on bringing in new cases to pay the bills. But they still can’t get those cases out the door.”

During the pandemic, AILA also conducted a small survey with just over 300 respondents. Seventy-six percent of them had applied for an emergency Small Business Administration loan during the pandemic. Most respondents said that their business had dropped and “it was one of their greatest concerns right now,” Anastasio wrote in an email to the Prospect.

In blog posts for AILA members, Anastasio advised how to parry the never-ending blows. One advised lawyers to “Triage your cases. Who needs emergency services and who can wait?” Attorneys should also be prepared to furlough and lay off their own staff, she advised. In another post from June, she wrote about how to collect fees during a recession. “Some of us feel mean, or even cruel, asking for what we are worth,” she wrote. “Now is not the time to give into these emotions. Now is the time to make financial health of the firm a top priority because we cannot help any clients if we cannot stay in business and feed our own families.”

Some researchers are assessing just how attorneys are going to stay in business. Kocher is a faculty fellow at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which uses public records to study the federal government. His research is part of the National Immigration Lawyer Survey, a collaboration with Maya Barak at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Katherine Abbott at the University of New Hampshire, and will be part of several forthcoming academic studies, including some about the economics of immigration lawyers.

For ethical reasons, the researchers were unable to share the survey results directly, but Kocher paraphrased some responses for the Prospect. In one example, an immigration attorney at a firm with several other lawyers handled a caseload that was 80 percent removal defense. But under Trump, removal cases were moving too fast for clients to make payments. Consequently, the firm can’t take these clients, because they’re unlikely to get paid. “The reality is that in the immigration field, you’re always on a knife’s edge in terms of breaking even and balancing your budget,” explained Kocher.

At this firm, the constant exposure to failure in court and secondary trauma has also exacted a heavy cost. The firm’s second associate lasted only a few months.

BURNOUT AND TRAUMA in immigration attorneys existed long before Trump. Starting in 2011, the United States experienced an influx of children traveling alone from Central America, peaking with more than 68,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014. The effects were felt by asylum attorneys nationwide, including Camille Gill, who had just started at a small nonprofit immigration legal services provider, with only two lawyers and one paralegal.

Gill and her colleagues would spend afternoon after afternoon at immigration court, advising kids under 18 who were in removal proceedings without their parents or a lawyer. “We would go and we might talk to one kid,” she said. “A few months later, it was five kids. And then by the time it was July and August, there’d be 25 kids every week.” Every child had a horror story to tell, “about rape and beheading and whatever you can think of.”

As the crisis intensified, the local chapter of AILA added private practitioners to assist pro bono to help cover the docket. But the desperation of her clients forced Gill to make a decision. “I am gonna quit everything else in my life, and just focus on this, because I feel like this is what I need to do for the world, right?” she said. “And so I did. I literally quit everything else in my life, every board, every social committee or whatever. And just only focused on this.”

Over the next several years, the organization’s staff grew and volunteers joined the ranks. Their office even won awards. But even during the Obama administration, she said, it was getting harder to win as the caseload grew. At any one time, 300 people would be waiting to get into the program with nowhere else to go, and no visible means of paying for even the most affordable private attorney. “If you didn’t help them, they weren’t getting help, and most of them are kids,” Gill said.

Somewhere along the way, she hit a personal breaking point. She was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She began considering leaving immigration law. But through nonprofit work, she was on the path to loan forgiveness for her law school debt, and she still felt the urgency to help.

And then Trump was elected.

At first, Gill felt re-invigorated and motivated. But the never-ending battles again altered her lifestyle. Every day started the same: wake up, read Twitter, and figure out what she’s doing today. She was constantly reading news articles, checking blogs, and conferring with colleagues on social media. “That was your best bet—to quickly put out a Facebook message and say, ‘I’ve got this situation. Has anybody else seen this?’” she explained. Her legal advice to clients was constantly in flux.

In 2018, Gill decided she really was going to leave, and began looking for a new job. But then ICE executed major raids in nearby communities. Gill kicked into a gear she didn’t know was possible: seven days a week, 12 hours a day or more, for at least two months. “It was relentless,” she said. “And you still couldn’t get anywhere. Because you just had hundreds of clients in detention—the way that the court was scheduling cases was totally unpredictable.” Things only slowed down after most of the people captured in the raids had been deported. “I remember talking to a client and saying, ‘Every day, I wake up and I immediately have chest pain, just due to the stress that I feel the moment that I wake up.’” It wasn’t sustainable, and this time Gill really did find another job, where she now works on the legal challenges faced by people in poverty.

The National Asylum Attorney Burnout, Trauma, and Stress Survey, conducted from March to May of this year, assessed whether Gill’s experience was typical. Although the results of the survey have not yet been published, researchers Lindsay M. Harris and Hillary Mellinger shared parts of the forthcoming law review article with the Prospect. (Burnout was also extensively documented this spring in the Virginia Quarterly Review.)

Harris and Mellinger assessed responses from over 700 asylum attorneys at nonprofit organizations, and private small and solo firms. (More than in other areas of immigration law, asylum work is often conducted by nonprofit attorneys because the client base is often destitute.) They found an undercurrent of struggle. In the responses shared with the Prospect, many described feeling overworked, and some expressed worry about their organization’s turnover rates. One attorney wrote that they planned to transition away from direct client services; another had to quit representing asylum clients; another said that they are retiring early; and still another wrote that they are quitting law altogether. Wrote one respondent, “It’s impossible to deal with the financial crush of serving a low-income population AND cope with the secondary trauma … I have no faith in justice or the law anymore.”

In total, more than two dozen attorneys said that they had left or were considering leaving, especially if Trump is re-elected.

Some aspects of burnout can also be intensified by identity. More than half of immigration and asylum attorneys are women, compared to just above a third of American attorneys overall. Much asylum work consists of representing women who have experienced sexual violence and extreme trauma. The immigration bar, while still predominantly white, is also more racially and ethnically diverse than the legal profession at large.

Still others expressed feelings of futility. Wrote one attorney, “A constant paralyzing feeling of complete impotence always surrounds me.” Attorneys said that even if they did everything right, the facts and arguments don’t matter. They questioned if their practice represented complicity in the system. “I am more and more conflicted about whether my participation legitimates the structure, and whether I should quit and stand in participate in civil disobedience,” wrote another attorney.

Given the extreme violence, trauma, and inhumanity their clients often endure, immigration attorneys don’t like to talk about how it affects them.

THROUGH EXECUTIVE ACTIONS and attorney general opinions, the Trump administration has dramatically changed how immigration courts operate. By politicizing the courts to achieve the administration’s goals rather than to provide justice, the administration has succeeded in undermining lawyers’ efforts, intensifying feelings of impotence, and contributing to some lawyers’ decisions to cut down or eliminate court work.

The courts, unlike criminal courts, aren’t independent—and in the courtroom, immigrants don’t have a constitutional right to a government-appointed attorney if they can’t afford their own. Judges report to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which is part of the Department of Justice. Their boss is Attorney General William Barr, the nation’s chief attorney.

And Trump has interfered in the courts much more than previous presidents. The administration has set deadlines and quotas for judges’ dockets. It has also ended administrative closure, a tool judges have used for decades to manage their dockets and eliminate case backlogs. Under previous administrations, the tool enabled judges to exercise more discretion by prioritizing people who “pose a security risk.” Administratively closing a case also enables attorneys to move forward through another channel of immigration law, should that become a better option for their client. Now, everyone’s case remains open until dispensed with, snarling the entire system, and ballooning the backload to 1.2 million cases.

Under Trump, it has become even more apparent that an asylum seeker’s likelihood of success depends not on their attorney’s skill, but on the judge to whom their case is assigned. In a court with at least two judges, such as Seattle or San Francisco, the likelihood of an asylum seeker losing their case can range from as little as 2 percent to as much as 98 percent—based solely on the judge to whom their case is assigned.

Although this practice is not entirely new, judges in the Trump era are hired and fired according to politics, with more judges entering the system with prosecutorial backgrounds and sometimes little immigration experience. The judges the administration has appointed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) have high rates of asylum denial. Turnover rates are higher than they’ve been since 1997. Two-thirds of current judges have been appointed since 2017.

“They took the worst judges in all the different districts in the country that deny every single asylum application and made them appellate judges,” said Kerry Hartington, an attorney in New Jersey. “They’re just turning the courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals into a deportation machine. You just feel like you’re not even getting a fair shot.”

In Harris and Mellinger’s survey of asylum attorneys, the shabby state of the courts was frequently cited. Wrote one attorney, “The worst part of the job is the defeatism I feel constantly—that I am spending 100s of hours of work preparing cases that aren’t good enough, to judges that won’t care, as part of a system that won’t change.”

In one instance, Fresno, California, immigration attorney Justin Sweeney told me he was filing for asylum on behalf of his client before a new immigration judge. The client also qualified for a status adjustment, so Sweeney mentioned to the judge an additional filing, a form known as a 485. The judge responded by asking what a 485 was. “‘You did not just ask me that,’” he recalled thinking. “He’s probably a great, smarter lawyer than I am. But how do you hire this person to become an immigration judge when they don’t know what a 485 is? That’s unconscionable. You can’t have them ruling on a form they don’t know exists.”

Attorneys also said that judges now have “Kafkaesque” demands. Despite asking for more evidence and more paperwork, the same courts are setting limits on the number of pages lawyers can electronically file. When Arkansas immigration attorney Nathan Bogart started his career, he said he would file 400 or 500 pages of evidence and arrive at the court with a well-written legal brief. But now, judges set limits of 150 pages, and dismiss legal arguments he used for decades. “I feel like we probably spend significantly more time preparing our cases today than we used to, for what’s almost assuredly going to be a worse result,” he said.

Some judges, Bogart told me, would demand he appear in person for even a five-minute status hearing. That meant he would spend hours driving to LaSalle, Louisiana, or Memphis, Tennessee, time he couldn’t use to prepare other cases. Jose “Chito” Vela III, an immigration and asylum attorney in Austin, Texas, said that he is constantly traveling to detention centers along the border. For a bond hearing, he explained, it might be ten hours of legal work and another two hours’ travel. As ProPublica documented in 2017, just a small percentage of detained immigrants have attorneys at all, and if they do, the nearest lawyers are usually hundreds of miles away—something that advocates say is by design.

All of these challenges make it much harder for an immigration attorney to win a case, especially in removal defense. No matter how much evidence he provides in his asylum cases, Vela said, it doesn’t matter. “It was just going to be denied.” Boston-based attorney Kerry Doyle described a process where government prosecutors and judges—many of whom are former prosecutors—team up. “The whole system is just kind of two against one because of the way the administration has set it up,” she said.

To beat the system—even in what might historically have been a strong case—attorneys are feeling compelled to augment their resources. Should Trump win re-election, firms that can afford the cost will seriously consider hiring additional litigators, attorneys told the Prospect. Some firms already have. The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a nonprofit legal services organization, has already hired a seven-person litigation team, said spokesperson Henrike Dessaules. But small private firms—which make up most of the immigration bar—can’t afford this expense, and may instead stop taking on litigious casework such as removal defense.

THE SYSTEM WEARS down attorneys—not just through a court system stacked against them, but also through government agencies determined not to make any immigration service simple. In AILA’s 2019 marketplace survey, 95 percent of respondents said that “dealing with difficult government agencies” was “somewhat” or “very much” a stress factor. More than double the number of attorneys compared to 2016 “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that job stress affects performance.

Before Trump, one of the simplest types of immigration cases was the U.S. citizenship application. The case might look like this, explained Fresno, California, attorney Jeremy Clason: An immigrant who went to college in the U.S., has no criminal record, no contact with ICE, and perfect English plans to apply for citizenship. He or she seeks a consultation with an attorney. Before Trump, Clason would have told this person to download the form, fill it out in black ink, head to the interview alone, and save on attorney’s fees. “You’ll be fine,” he would have assured them.

“I would never tell anybody that anymore,” Clason said. “Everything is subject to the whims of the officer viewing the case. Ironclad cases are still oftentimes ironclad, but … any small mistake can be capitalized on by USCIS,” which stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The latest change that made headlines was the demand that every line on a form be filled, with a “not applicable” (n/a) at the very least. After this was implemented, immigrants applying for work permits, citizenship, and other legal benefits had their claims rejected, and were forced to resubmit their applications. The care that now must be taken with perfunctory forms adds to the caseload for already-stressed attorneys. “[The added time] isn’t just additional forms and new roadblocks,” wrote Anastasio in an email. “It is also in petty denials that must be refiled for a technicality like an n/a missing from a line, or an aggressive Request for Evidence that would be unheard of before.”

Jan Austerlitz, an immigration attorney in Berkeley, California, who has been practicing for decades, described how this played out in her office: In an application so large she used a USPS flat rate medium box, she filed for asylum for one of her clients. (The box, at $15, exemplifies one of the many problems of the paper-only immigration system.)

One item on the application, “Were you provided a list of low-fee service providers?” was not checked yes or no. USCIS rejected the entire application under the agency’s “no blanks” policy. Austerlitz’s colleague found the application months later, where it lay split open after being tossed over the fence and onto her office building’s parking lot by the shipping company.

Not only does the government question everything indiscriminately, it also counts its own mistakes against the immigrants. “When they make a mistake—and boy do they do all the time—when they make a mistake, the client thinks it’s the attorney’s fault,” explained Clason. “You just have to qualify all the legal advice you’re giving people, because you’re just not sure what’s going to happen to what the current state of the law is sometimes,” added Vela, the attorney in Texas.

Sometimes, the system is designed so that it’s virtually impossible to even give legal advice. For example, the Orwellian-named Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), launched in March 2019, have virtually cut off access to asylum in the U.S., forcing migrants to remain in Mexico for weeks and months as they await their case’s adjudication. The program also erected “tent courts,” where judges and translators would attend via video call for asylum hearings. Only 12 percent of these individuals have representation.

Last year, Heather Yountz, an associate attorney with Susan Church’s firm in Boston, volunteered as counsel in Tijuana, Mexico. She worked under the administration’s metering policy, which limited the number of asylum seekers who could enter each day, and kept migrants in Mexico for weeks. She met with asylum seekers before their “credible fear” interview, where asylum seekers attempt to demonstrate fear of persecution. Yountz had just ten minutes with each person before they went into CBP holding cells, known as “hieleras” to asylum seekers. Previously, Yountz would have had ten hours to prepare someone for this interview, but for these asylum seekers, she had ten minutes. “The first five of it is telling her to put the warmest layer of clothing on first because ICE will strip you down to the layer close to your skin, and they’ll do the same with the children,” she said. Then, Yountz used a Sharpie to write names and phone numbers on the children’s arms because papers are not allowed in the holding cell. Then she had just five minutes left.

“It’s just not enough time—with somebody who has a complex case where they’ve been systematically mistreated for years, if it’s domestic violence, or if it’s an indigenous person, or whatever else, it’s really hard to put that into words, in ten hours, much less five minutes. But that’s what’s happening.”

Attorneys said that even if they did everything right, the facts and arguments don’t matter.

MPP is one of the best examples of an immigration program designed to be cumbersome and opaque—designed for asylum seekers to fail. But it was also designed so that they would have no counsel, and to make it much harder for the counsel they did manage to find. Similarly, the recently implemented “public charge” rule is frequently cited by lawyers as another example of the barriers to gaining status. In order to obtain status such as a green card or visa, the rule requires immigrants to prove that they will not use public benefits. Decried as racist, the rule encountered widespread opposition. What might have once been a six-page application now requires hundreds of pages of evidence and requires at least ten hours of legal work.

Together, this is death by a thousand paper cuts and another assault on access to counsel. “Every case takes a lot longer now,” said Karen Crawford, another Austin, Texas, attorney. “So that means an attorney is able to take on fewer cases as well.” For others, that time takes on a different burden. A family petition that took two months now takes 15 months, and in the interim, a firm might need to take on more clients just to pay the staff.

TONY DRAGO, WHO has been practicing immigration law for more than 25 years, doesn’t plan to leave the bar anytime soon. He likes the clients and he finds immigration law intellectually stimulating. Plus, “Anytime you beat the United States government, it’s a great day,” he said. His practice includes federal and immigration court work, business and family-based immigration, and—until recently—a few removal defense cases.

“I am a solo practitioner,” he explained. “I move where I need to go to stay afloat.” But he also has moved away from removal defense cases recently. When I asked him why he decided to cut back, he said, “This administration has ruined the court system. They totally trashed it.”

When a Department of Homeland Security database was leaked, attorneys were able to confirm what they had already suspected: Attorneys themselves were the target of attacks by the Trump government, reported the Boston Review in April 2019. In an interview with the Prospect, Nora Phillips, legal director for the nonprofit legal services organization Al Otro Lado, described how she and her colleague were harassed while attempting to cross the border. In 2018, Arizona Republican congressman Paul Gosar threatened that attorneys assisting asylum seekers at the border were actually breaking the law and could be prosecuted. (Of course, there is no such law.)

In the survey of asylum attorneys, one attorney wrote, “Sometimes I expect that I’m going to be killed because I advocate on behalf of immigrants, and many people where I live don’t like undocumented immigrants.”

If Trump wins in November, his attacks on what remains of the immigration system will likely be no-holds-barred. It’s also likely that a lot of attorneys will reconsider their caseloads, and whether they even want to remain in a system that doesn’t seem to work anymore. “People are definitely leaving and they’re going to leave, probably en masse [if he’s re-elected],” Phillips said. She described a recent Facebook post where an attorney announced they were leaving, and the comments were overwhelmingly understanding.

Nathan Bogart, the attorney in Arkansas, said that lawyers balk at talking about these issues for two reasons. “We feel a bit of shame,” he explained. “We want to keep the focus on our clients and their stories, and not adopt a ‘woe is me’ attitude.” Lawyers are also institutionalists, he said. Because they work within the system, it takes extremes to make a lawyer feel like that system is stacked against them. But in the last four years—and even before—immigration law has not only turned on their clients, he said, but what’s “not reported as much is that it’s being turned against us.”


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