We get a lot of questions about what it is like to be an immigration lawyer in Washington DC. After all, immigration is a federal matter and Congress and the executive branch are just blocks from our office. In addition to the White House and Capitol Hill, there are the headquarters of the Citizenship & Immigration Service, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, Customs & Border Protection, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. In addition to those three major players, there is the Office of Immigration Litigation, the State Department and the Department of Labor, all of whom have an important role in today’s complex immigration law regime. Finally, Washington DC is home to organizations that play active roles in the immigration debate, journalists who cover immigration issues and the activists that come from all over the country to protest, agitate and inflame the country. These facts make being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC interesting and exciting, but here are some other things that may surprise you.
Question: We see you traveling the country doing hearings and cases in states other than Washington DC, aren’t you licensed to be an immigration lawyer in Washington DC only?
Answer: Well, yes. We are licensed to practice law in Washington DC. However, since immigration is federal matter and the agencies that we practice in are federal agencies applying U.S., and not state law, we are able to practice immigration law in any state. This allows us to represent people in immigration court anywhere in the U.S. Although it may often be preferable to have a local lawyer who is familiar with the court and the personalities, sometimes it helps to have a lawyer from out of town who can make difficult arguments and take unpopular positions with a judge or an agency without worrying too much about the next time she is in front of that judge.
Question: Does it matter that the Supreme Court and other courts are in Washington DC?
Answer: Yes, it does. One of the best things about being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC is that we can have front row seats to some of the greatest immigration issues of the day. For instance, when the Supreme Court takes up an immigration issue, we often go to the Supreme Court to watch and listen to the oral arguments. This keeps us up to date on pressing issues on immigration law and lets us hear the questions from the justices themselves. We can form our own opinion about how the argument went without the filter of the media. In addition, since many of the lawyers bringing the cases to the Supreme Court are our friends, it is a great chance to have lunch, catch up and get the details on the case and their arguments.
In addition, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sits in Washington DC. This is one of the most active and prestigious courts in the country. It has developed extensive expertise in the powers of agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, and the rules that bind their action. When there is a bad decision by the agency, we often bring a lawsuit here in Washington DC due to the court’s familiarity with federal agency rules and constitutional law issues.
Question: What is the immigrant population like in Washington DC?
Answer: Another great thing about being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC is that you get a chance to meet people from all over the world. Washington DC and its suburbs have a tremendously diverse community of immigrants. In addition, many people in the immigrant population in Washington DC are refugees and political activists. It is possible to learn all about the political situation in Ethiopia during a taxi ride, or get an understanding of the violence and terror in Central America by talking to the people working in our office building. There are princes and would-be Presidents; there are individuals who fight desperately to bring justice and freedom to their homeland, and there are people who followed their American dream to live in stability and security. The owner of the Vietnamese restaurant may have spent years fighting alongside Americans in the jungles of Vietnam. On any given day in our office, you can meet a farmer from Michoacan or an economist from Ukraine. It means that being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC gives you a daily chance to learn about something new.
Question: So the DC immigration office must be pretty busy?
Answer: Funny enough, Washington DC does not have an immigration office. There is an office in Fairfax, VA and another in Baltimore, MD. People who live in Washington DC have to go to the Fairfax office. The immigration court for Virginia and Washington DC is in Arlington, VA and the Maryland immigration court is in Baltimore. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we suspect that these offices, especially the courts, were set up so that they could be under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, rather than the DC Circuit. For many years, the 4th Circuit was a very reliable pro-government circuit and we think the government liked its chances there as removal orders must be appealed to the Circuit in which the court sits. By locating in VA and MD, rather than DC, the immigration courts could make sure that their decisions went to the 4th Circuit rather than the DC Circuit. Another less interesting possibility is that they put the offices where the immigrants are. The majority of the immigrants in the greater Washington DC area do not live in Washington, DC. They live in Fairfax County, VA, Montgomery County MD and other suburbs of the city. So rather than walking a couple of blocks to the immigration office, we have a to drive at least thirty minutes to get to the immigration offices. But that is a small price to pay when compared to the advantages of being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC.
Question: Aren’t there lot of lawyers in Washington DC?
Answer: There certainly are. But only a small percentage of us are immigration lawyers in Washington DC. The number of lawyers in Washington DC has been a tremendous benefit to us. Some of the best and most well-known lawyers in the country practice in Washington DC. Firms host former Senators, Attorneys General and other high-ranking government officials. We have been able to work with many of these outstanding lawyers to craft unique solutions to some of our toughest cases.
Question: So, do you like being an immigration lawyer in Washington DC?
Answer: We would not practice anywhere else. In Washington, DC, we have two very strong immigration courts with knowledgeable and fair judges. Our local immigration offices and officials are reasonable and approachable. We have developed strong relationship with headquarters officials and get many opportunities to discuss cases and issues with them. Every year, the American Immigration Lawyers Association holds a spring conference here where government officials share the latest information and our friends from across the country look to us for restaurant recommendations, spin classes, and sights to visit. And we are a part of community of lawyers, journalists, and activists who are working hard every day to make our immigration laws more just and humane. Again, aside from filling in in the Nationals bullpen, there is nothing we would rather be than immigration lawyers in Washington DC.