Zigging with the Zags: The Importance of Rolling with the Punches in Immigration Practice

By Thummim Park, J.D. Class of 2022

The sky is blue. The grass is green. The immigration field is constantly changing. No two clients are the same.

These are facts of life that I have come to learn at various points in my life, with the latter two bringing various challenges. The mercurial nature of immigration law is known to many, with each administration issuing new rules that are constantly changing the landscape of the practice.

These rules can often drastically change the outcomes of millions of people’s cases at the drop of a hat. The Immigration Clinic and other immigration defense organizations are therefore often at the mercy of these decisions that may be announced the day, or even mere hours, before a client’s hearing at Immigration Court. In this sense, there is rarely regularity for those in the field due to its constantly changing nature.

On a more granular sense, in the three months I’ve been at the Clinic, I cannot recall a single client I have dealt with whose work has gone exactly as planned, from beginning to end. Sometimes these hiccups were just small things—things one might even consider pleasant surprises. Other times, they required throwing the entire plan out the window and calling all hands on deck to get the ship up and running again.

At first, this surprised me, having attended school and worked in such rigid environments where everything always goes as expected. However, when I stopped to think for a moment, I realized that I really shouldn’t be expecting any sort of regularity from my clients. They are all individuals in their own right—each with their own unique stories, paths, and choices that have led them to talk to me in that moment. Just because two clients are both Afghan parolees does not mean I can expect their cases to progress the same way, just as I cannot expect their lives to have been lived in the exact same way.

So, is it really fair of me to be surprised if, in talking to my client, I discover some information about them, their case, or an underlying petition that isn’t “normal”? I don’t think so. If anything, I would argue that being able to uncover little issues like that each time is a sign that I’m doing something right. If, at some point, years into my practice, I find that every client starts to meld together, I fear that would mean I have fallen into the danger of the single story—a paradigm that writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains leads us to shoehorn people into boxes, often preventing us from seeing those in our lives as whole individuals in their own right.

Each client comes to us as an individual entrusting their story to the Clinic—entrusting that the Clinic will ensure their independent and unique voice will be heard in a system that will attempt to do everything but that.

I think one of the most important lessons I have learned from my time at the Clinic is that sometimes the best you can do is prepare as much as you can, and then go into it expecting to have it all upended. Whether it’s because of something you couldn’t have foreseen in the client’s case, or something you couldn’t have controlled in immigration law, perhaps change is the only constant in immigration practice.