Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Guest Post: New Data Shows Immigration Attorneys Frustrated with U.S. Immigration System by Terrence Gourlay
Immigration lawyers are often all that stands between immigrants and deportation. A new nationwide survey of immigration attorneys finds that despite their diversity, immigration attorneys agree on one thing: the immigration system is deeply flawed. Indeed, over half (53.3%) of the attorneys participating in the study reported being “extremely dissatisfied” with current U.S. immigration law.
Before the Trump administration, immigration lawyers rarely made the news. But key Trump policy changes, from the Muslim ban to the workplace raids, have thrust many of them into the spotlight as they fight on the front lines to protect their clients from deportation.
But who exactly are these immigration attorneys and why are they so dissatisfied? Dr. Katherine Abbott (University of New Hampshire), Dr. Maya Barak (University of Michigan-Dearborn), and Dr. Austin Kocher (TRAC Syracuse) created the National Immigration Lawyers Survey to examine the perceptions and experiences of attorneys working within the immigration system. “We wanted to better understand the understudied immigration lawyer. Who were they?” Dr. Abbott remarks. The research team gathered survey and interview data in 2018, with a total of 334 attorneys from across the country participating.
“Having all studied or worked on immigration issues in various capacities over the past decade, none of us were surprised by the finding that immigration attorneys are generally dissatisfied with the immigration system,” says Dr. Barak, “however, we were surprised by just how dissatisfied they seem to be, as well as the fact that this dissatisfaction cuts across race and gender.”
In interviews with the researchers, immigration attorneys expressed finding it more difficult to prepare their cases or explain the immigration process to their clients in recent years because of the numerous changes to immigration policy and practice since President Trump took office. “For attorneys, change often equates to unpredictability,” explains Dr. Barak. “When the law is unpredictable, attorneys may be less effective, and their clients' chances of success in court may decrease--however, it’s still too soon to know for sure.” Further research is needed to understand the effects of such legal uncertainties on both attorneys and their clients.
Still, the outlook is not entirely negative. Increasing frustration with the immigration system may be spurring some attorneys to engage in increased advocacy and activism. For example, around 1/4 of those surveyed stated that they had plans to engage in various immigration advocacy efforts, including strategic removal defense campaigns.
To learn more about the study and its upcoming release, visit the NILS website.