In the past year, immigration policy has continued to be pushed further into the limelight.
In January, President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries ignited airport protests and rallies across the country.
Trump’s changes to guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation of undocumented immigrants also stirred controversy and reawakened arguments over the president’s promise to construct a wall on the United States’ southern border.
Representatives from Berkeley immigration law firms weighed in on new challenges and ongoing issues facing immigration law in the current political landscape.
Multiple attorneys acknowledged the impact of Trump’s policies and rhetoric on immigration.
Attorney Katherine P. Dwight, whose law office specializes in criminal immigration law, said she believes recent worries among families seeking counsel stemmed from President Trump’s focus on increasing deportation.
“There are people who are seeking higher ground,” said Jin S. Kim, an attorney who focuses on family-based immigration petitions. “People who were content at being visa holders (are) looking for opportunities to become permanent residents or green card holders. People who were permanent residents (are) thinking, ‘Maybe this is the time I need to become a citizen.’ The concern is there, the fear is there.”
The Bankston Immigration Law Office, a branch of the local nonprofit organization East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, works in a variety of areas of immigration law, including with clients who face asylum and deportation proceedings.
Bankston paralegal Cuitlahuac Medina says he believes that people oftentimes pass on immigration specialists because of the cost.
“The majority of people who are adjusting don’t speak the language or understand (it). Rule of law isn’t something they’re used to or that they (necessarily) trust,” Medina said. He added that some lawyers take advantage of this weakness and charge excessive fees.
Medina said he hopes that the monthly payment plan Bankston has instituted will open the door for more people to consult with immigration specialists.
Medina echoed Kim’s sentiments but also claimed that media misconceptions along with the rhetoric of the current federal administration were having an impact on immigrant communities.
“(It’s) funny because that’s all it’s been — rhetoric.” Medina stated. “The rhetoric is instilling a lot of fear.”
In the midst of this new environment, all three stressed the importance of legal aid for those who are vulnerable. Dwight explained, for example, that it is difficult for immigrants who are faced with complicated deportation proceedings “to navigate without a lawyer.”
Kim also emphasized the importance of attorneys in bridging the gap between immigration services and potential clients.
“We want to do the most we can,” Medina said. “They’re very sensitive when they come here. (We want to) have the immigration community come together and really (aid) those who are seeking help and refuge.”