Ask an immigration lawyer: Is Trump good for business?

“We have yet to permanently enshrine a concept of democracy that sees itself as enriched by the presence and success of others.”
“We have yet to permanently enshrine a concept of democracy that sees itself as enriched by the presence and success of others.”
Image: Reuters/Stephanie Keith
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“So, business must be pretty good with Trump in office?” As a practicing immigration lawyer, I get this question constantly.

Do oncologists get happy when the cancer rate spikes?

US immigration lawyers are in the business of alleviating human suffering by providing a secure path to prosperity: lawful immigration status in a great country. That path could save a victim of persecution, bring a family together, or lead to new opportunities for an entrepreneur or worker. It should not wind through a minefield—but under Trump, that is exactly what it is doing.

Practicing immigration law in the Trump era

The stress of working as an immigration lawyer is nothing compared to what our clients are going through, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

We’re seeing processing delays across the board, and I cannot tell my clients whether the advice I’m giving them will be nullified by tomorrow’s 5 AM tweet.

There are rarely any routine cases anymore. We find ourselves saying “no, there’s nothing we can do for you” more often. Even if there is a way, clients are justifiably scared, even terrified. Will the legal basis for the asylum claim we’ve articulated remain good law? What happens if the law changes mid-process? Will there be a chance to refile before getting placed in deportation proceedings?

For people who entered the US illegally, is it still worth it to “come onto the grid?” Will the government even follow the law? If the government does not follow the law, will we get a chance to take them to court?

The law itself is turning into shifting sands. I recently had to get a case I filed nearly three years ago delayed for another year because attorney general Jeff Sessions suddenly made it harder for Central Americans to qualify for asylum based on gang or domestic violence. Earlier this year, Sessions took away an immigration judge’s ability to control her own docket.

What about clients who entered legally and whose immigration status has not yet expired? Surely the administration isn’t going after them? Think again. USCIS is planning to make it easier to deny cases, and then pump them into the overburdened immigration court system for deportation.

Just as we saw with the Muslim ban, the administration is using chaos as an offensive tactic: Make the system unpredictable, and people will either not come, not apply for protection, or retreat into hiding for later apprehension and removal. The administration seems quite bent on making as many people undocumented and vulnerable to deportation as possible.

Making sense of a deportation machine

People seeking asylum relate tales of the law not working in their countries: police in bed with criminal gangs, bribery as standard operating procedure, and no chance to tell their story. Now, I see some of the same things happening here in the United States. I was a volunteer lawyer at Washington-Dulles International Airport on the night of the first Muslim ban in January 2017. Despite having a court order in hand mandating we be allowed to meet detained clients, we were barred from doing so.

Immigration lawyers are currently tasked with coaxing lawful status out of a system that has been reprogrammed as a deportation machine. Deportations for people already living in the country have ramped up without any clear prioritization, access to counsel has been denied, and the highest offices in the land have issued dehumanizing language about our clients.

Our clients are treated like criminals, but they are robbed of the due process of law that all criminals get. The federal bench is being stacked with judges follow the administration’s cues, and in immigration court, judges are robbed of autonomy and pressured to make decisions as fast as possible.

But here’s the crucial point: These policies were not cooked up by the Trump White House. Started by white nationalist Dr. John Tanton, there is a well-organized, financed, and purposeful anti-immigrant movement in this country, and they’ve been at work for decades to ethnically purge the United States of America.

This administration has simply bought that narrative; Trump and his supporters fear the diversity that has always made America great.

So when someone asks me whether I’m rolling in money under Trump, I tell them the truth. I’m not. We’re not. I’m not seeing a significant jump in income. There are more cases, but each case requires much more work. And for everyone who gets a lawyer, there are more who decide not to do anything.

The biggest liability of all doesn’t show on the balance sheets. It’s the poisonous, racist rhetoric, and I can’t even begin to imagine what this will ultimately cost.