As an immigration lawyer, I take my clients through some of the most important journeys of their lives — their visa, green card, and citizenship applications. Being in America to make their American dreams come true starts with their successful immigration applications. And when those applications are successful, I feel all their joy, relief, and aspirations.
On Independence Day, which comes on the heels of the National Day of Joy last week, I want to take a little time to share some of the special moments of joy and excitement from my clients.
The very first time I had to drop the phone because the screeching on the other end was piercing my ears, was when my client “Mary” had just heard the news that her green card application was approved. Mary was a battered wife of an American citizen. She had suffered severe physical and emotional abuse by her husband, who left her abandoned, with no way to provide for herself. He didn’t complete her immigration process.
It is not uncommon to see that abusive spouses will often use immigration as a power tool. In any event, she was a lost soul dealing with difficult challenges by the time she and I met. It took a couple of years during which she barely made it through each day. When I called her to give her the good news, I just remember a deafening scream — a scream of joy. It took a good minute before I stopped hearing the loud scream from the handset laying on the floor. I knew that her life from that moment would be changed forever.
Mary’s story taught me that experiencing a client’s moment of pure joy learning a green card/visa application had been approved, is a true privilege. So, at our office, we take turns to share good news so that I don’t hog all of those fabulous moments to myself.
When “Ana,” a Roma minority from Bulgaria who grew up persecuted, won her asylum application, she almost made Nicole, our office manager and senior paralegal, deaf, too. She was overwhelmed with relief and joy. Nicole later shared how emotional she felt knowing she was able to help bring safety and security to Ana’s life. All that Ana wanted to do was live her life freely, and America gave her the opportunity where she could be herself without restrictions.
Talking of freely being yourself — my client “Tony,” who was born in Russia, was able to successfully prove his life would be in danger in Russia because gay people face serious persecution there. When we gave him the good news, I didn’t hear a deafening scream. Instead, I heard the deep sobs of a grown man who finally felt he was free to live his life.
My client, “Andy,” who founded a startup a few years ago, had raised a substantial amount of funds. He and his American co-founder had created a pathway to make a difference in the lives of college students in the United States. His visa application was denied twice before the universe connected us. After a lot of challenging work, his visa application was approved. This very bright, smart, intelligent, and soft-spoken man was not openly demonstrative. When my assistant called him to give him the good news, he was happy to hear it but because of his stoic personality, we were unable to “hear” his joy. But his excitement came through loud and clear in a gratitude email he later sent. He can now take his company to success. Because, in America, entrepreneurs can make their dreams come true.
One of my fondest and most insightful memories is when my client “Jenny’s” citizenship application was approved. The case fell into a legal exception that we don’t get to see often. Even the immigration officer felt compelled to brainstorm the issue at the interview, it was that interesting and challenging. The hard-fought case got me an invitation to her naturalization ceremony. I had never been to one at that point. I saw the entire family go back and forth from happy tears to loud laughter. It was such a privilege to experience that with them. This client’s family was in the healthcare industry making a profound difference every day in the lives of Americans and people in other parts of the world.
But it wasn’t until my own naturalization ceremony that I came to appreciate what Jenny felt the day she took the oath to become an American. What all my clients feel in that moment. To me, processing my own case actually felt like processing someone else’s file, as I went through each required step. In fact, it felt so routine I even told my husband not to bother taking the time out of his busy day to attend my naturalization ceremony. He didn’t listen to me and attended anyway. And I was sure glad he did. I sobbed through the whole ceremony realizing all the dreams that I had growing up were being realized in America. It felt like a rebirth. And every 4th of July, I cannot help but think of that day. You can read the detailed story here.
Over the years, I have had the true privilege of hearing screeches, screams, laughter, happy sobbing, happy crying, laughter while crying, and ugly crying when I have had the pleasure of telling my clients their immigration case had been approved. Those moments are in fact, indescribable.
It is because America is still the land of dreams. In this country, we can all be our unique selves, while still collectively being American. I love the children’s book “We Are Americans,” written and illustrated by Nikita Vyas Hattangady. In her book, she illustrates people from 37 different countries, with different names, languages, and more to demonstrate the beautiful melting pot that we are.
And even though our country faces some serious challenges, at least for now, the American dream is still alive. I take this moment to celebrate my husband, whose birthday is on July 4 and who overrode my objection to ensure he was by my side during my own naturalization ceremony; I celebrate each and every one of my clients who gave me the privilege of sharing in their immigration journeys and special moments; and I celebrate America for giving the hopes and dreams of freedom and liberty to people, not just in America, but around the world.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.