I’m back with another Pro.File feature! I know, I know…it’s been a year since the last one, but life happened while I made all these plans.
So my next interview is with my friend Laura. Funny thing about Laura: We’ve never actually met in person. She’s a native of Port Charles, Louisiana, where she lives with her lovely family…and I’m still spreading the love in the Brooklyn way from my perch in Flatbush, the greatest ‘hood of all time. We met via the Catholic Fashion and Beauty Group on Facebook, which is a fashion and beauty daily that’s geared towards Catholic women, and we became good friends outside of the group through our daily comments, posts and suggestions. I’ll be honest with you: when I saw how much she accomplished during the day while taking care of her family and working at her job, I’d always say to myself “How on Earth does she do it?” But my admiration of her grew leaps and bounds when she changed jobs from working as a social media manager at Grovia to becoming a paralegal for an immigration law firm. After her dinnertime interview, she changed into comfy clothes and drove to the office (at night, mind you) to pick up documents so that she could get straight to work.
So without further ado, my friend Laura.
(1) Could you tell us about your career and life-trajectory?
I’m now working, mainly from home but I also do some traveling to the immigration courts in Louisiana, as a
paralegal in a small immigration services law firm that represents asylum-seekers and undocumented residents pursuing adjustments of status or cancellation of removal. Our long-term goal is to establish a non-profit segment of the firm staffed by BIA-accredited immigration services providers able to provide pro-bono legal services. I’m married to my best friend from middle school, the first boy I ever had a crush on. We have five children ages 10.5, 8.75, 6, 6, and 3. He’s in a plumber’s apprenticeship program right now, working to become a journeyman/master plumber.
(2) What is your daily routine?
I wash my face and put on moisturizer as soon as I wake up. SPF 50 before I get the kids to care or
school. If I will be meeting clients or leaving my house, I put on primer, foundation, bronzer, blush, eyebrows, eyeliner, mascara, and a nude lip-color pretty quickly. If I’m really pressed for time or I know I probably won’t go
anywhere further than the corner grocery store, I skip everything but eyebrows, mascara, and a sheer lip product of some kind. In the evening I double cleanse, use an acid toner 2x/wk, and layer hydrators, then a heavier moisturizer, then seal with an oil.
(3) How do you balance being a full-time wife and mother with a demanding job as an immigration law paralegal?
Ha. Ha. Ha. Look, at any given moment somebody is unhappy with my performance, whether it’s my husband, one or many of my children, my childcare providers, my boss, or a client who’s waiting on an answer to a text [message] or [phone]-call. My goal is to spread that unhappiness out evenly so that no one party feels constantly shafted. I’m pretty sure that’s the best I can do.
(4) What were you doing before you entered the legal profession, and what was the moment that made you want to enter the field?
For nine years I worked in the baby industry, and for the last six of those years, I managed the social media
presence of a green baby brand based in Bozeman, MT, which involved a unique mix of marketing, customer service, networking/outreach, public relations, writing, and camera work. I began volunteering directly with asylum-seekers in my city in January after using social media to boost the signals of various non-profits and organizations for most of the current Presidency. At some point, I realized that if I wanted to continue to be in these trenches I felt called to be in, I had to make those trenches my career. The opportunity to meet with the attorney I am now assisting fell into my lap, so I leaned into it and sort of forced that meeting into ‘job interview’ status. It worked.
(5) Has working on the front lines of the immigration battle deepened your faith and your feminist beliefs?
You know, yes and no. I’ve had to accept a certain amount of cynicism as part of the gig – there are some cases where you know the best option for the client is to opt for voluntary departure, for example, even though you hate to see them go and be separated from the communities and roots they’ve put down here while being out of status. The part of me who wants to see sweeping reforms to the current laws often has
to take a backseat to the part of me who has to work within the laws we’ve got right now. Do I want to completely end the mass detention of Latino men who are arrested and turned over to ICE for being out of status or who were apprehended near the border? Absolutely, I do. Can I do that as a paralegal? Nope. So there’s a part of me who’s quickly becoming used to this system because it’s the system I see day in and day out.
But there are asylum cases I’ve worked on – one in particular, which we won, that I’m thinking of – where I step back and this gratitude washes over me because God has allowed me to use my intellect and talents in the service of bringing about a more just world, a world where people who face persecution because of who they are, what they believe, or what their last name is are able to gain their freedom in the country of their choice. And I hope that in the near future there’s an opening for people who face scarcity and poverty to access that same freedom.
(6) How would you compare the social media industry of your previous job to the legal profession? Also, what are some differences between the two fields?
There’s not much similarity between the work I was doing before and the work I’m doing now, other than that both have required me to help customers/clients manage or adjust their expectations at times, and neither of them really lends itself to set business hours.
(7) What are some of your greatest moments that you’ve experienced since you became an immigration law paralegal?
A couple weeks ago I had the honor of picking up a client who had won his asylum case at the rural jail where he had been detained for eight months. I practiced my Spanish, he practiced hisEnglish. We talked about our favorite music (he had grown to love country radio while in detention; I introduced him to Johnny Cash), our children, Louisiana politics. And I bought that man a steak dinner and some ice cream, then took
him to an airport and helped him navigate TSA (because they, of course, had questions and wanted him to consent to extra searches). I had booked him a flight to meet loved ones in another state. I’ll never see him again, but I’ll never forget him, either. His case was one of the first I’d worked on, and being able to see him free to start a life here was truly gratifying.
(8) Could you tell me what are some of the hard parts of your job that people may not see? How do you cope with them?
The hardest part, for me, is not really ever getting to finish a task before something else urgent rolls in. Our case load is huge – and every immigration firm’s is right now. I cope by just taking it one step at a time. Most of the time, if a ball gets dropped, the consequences for the client are steep, so I really can’t afford to make mistakes. That’s REAL fun for a chronic perfectionist. 😉
(9) What would you say to someone who told you “I want to do your job?”
It’s definitely not glamorous, but it is satisfying work. We need people in this field, and the field is generally welcoming. I don’t find there’s much competition among attorneys doing legal work with asylum-seekers and others who are out-of-status. The deck is so stacked against the clients; we just want to help each other help immigrants.
(10) What’s a one-line piece of advice that you often give your children?
“You don’t have to be friends with everybody. You do have to be kind to everybody. But kindness doesn’t always sound polite.”
(11) Have you seen any sexism in your new line of work? How do you deal with it?
It’s funny you say that, because I was just talking to a colleague about a particular immigration judge who certainly seems to be in the business of head pats and charming smiles when he sees a face he likes. There’s not much to be done about it from my position.
(12) How do you de-stress from your busy day? What rituals do you partake in?
I put on Bluetooth headphones and cook dinner while I drink a glass of wine almost every afternoon, and I either walk five miles, mow the yard, take a tap dance class, or go to a Spin class
most evenings. If I’m not active at the end of the day, I have a hard time falling asleep no matter how tired the work/kids routine has made me.
(13) What are your must-have products while you’re working?
NYX Butter Glosses. All the neutral and nude shades are fantastic for a professional wardrobe. They’re comfortable, not sticky, they’re tiny and fit in my pocket well, and they last nicely for glosses. Tarte Amazonian Clay foundation for foundation touchups on the road to the immigration courts. Sally Hansen’s matte top coat for nail polish – I just think a matte polish looks a bit more professional and muted. And Pixi’s Hydrating Milky Mist is always in my work bag if I’m on the road that day. Finally, Tarte Amazonian Clay Stick Foundation for quick touchups etc. I like the liquid, too, but the stick is what stays in my work bag.