By Jhon Sánchez
Since meeting Megan back in McKinney law school, I’ve always seen her like one of my cousins —well, part of my family has the same last name as Megan’s: Alvarez. Even though we teased each other like many classmates do, Megan was very serious and efficient and for that reason we were able to coauthor along with other students a couple of UN shadow reports under the advisory of Professor George Edwards.
Megan, I’m glad to hear that you’re still working on human right issues and immigration law for the people of Indiana, specially now under the current government.
1) Please tell us about your background, and why you are working as an immigration attorney.
I started working in immigration law in law school. I had the opportunity to participate in an immigration clinic and work on immigration cases under the supervision of a licensed professor. I initially got involved because my ability to speak Spanish was a skill that was particularly needed in this area of law. I also had an interest in immigration law since my father is an immigrant to this country from Colombia. Once I learned the basics of immigration, it became my comfort zone, the area of law that was easiest for me.
Since law school, I’ve worked in other areas of law, but immigration is my main focus. I enjoy working with my clients and meeting people from all over the world on a daily basis. I learn so much from my clients, and hearing their stories is like a daily escape into someone else’s reality. It’s an opportunity to see the humanity in each person instead of succumbing to pervasive stereotypes.
2) What kind of cases are you handling?
I do U visa applications on a regular basis. These visas are for individuals who have been victims of serious crimes in the US. Many of the applicants are domestic violence victims. The current wait time to get a decision on an affirmative U visa application is more than 3 years.
3) Why is this unfair?
These applicants have suffered significant injuries and have assisted authorities in investigating the crime, yet they have to wait over 3 years to get a decision on their case. Of course while they wait, they have no right to work or apply for any public benefits. Some of these individuals have suffered physical and emotional injuries that need to be treated with ongoing medical care or counseling, but it can be very difficult to access the needed care if one is not working and able to pay for the care.
Unfortunately, long processing times have become too common. Similar wait times can be found in the immigration courts, where many immigrant wait years for a court date. These wait times are particularly sad when you consider that some individuals waiting for decisions and court hearings are separated from their families.
4) After submitting the application, what are the strategies to follow?
Unfortunately, the U applicant can only wait. However, the wait is difficult for some who might not otherwise have lawful status, meaning they are spending three years of their lives living under the radar and trying to make do without proper identification or the right to work. I always advise my clients to avoid driving, since petty traffic violations can lead to clients being put into removal proceedings. Of course, this is particularly difficult in many parts of the country, like Indiana where I am located, where there are limited public transportation options.
5) What are the lessons the immigrant community needs to learn from this case?
Long processing times have become the norm. The immigrant community needs to realize this and plan accordingly. Families need to make a plan as to how they will provide for themselves during the wait.
At the same time, they need to realize that reporting crime is important and that there may be immigration benefits to reporting crime and assisting law enforcement. Not reporting crime often leads to further victimization, especially in the case of domestic violence.
6) Is it worth calling or writing your representative and senator to support those cases? What other things can the readers do to support the immigrant community?
Immigration reform is long overdue. I believe every citizen should be demanding reform. We cannot continue on this path. It is not beneficial to anyone.
I believe it is also important that communities press their law enforcement officials to adopt standard practices with regards to immigrants. Also, citizens should be urging their officers to act as law enforcement officers and not immigration officers. Blurring the lines, only causes fear, meaning immigrants will not report crimes and will be further victimized.
Megan, thank you very much. It’s an honor to have a cousin —I’m sorry, a classmate like you.
Jhon Sánchez: A native of Colombia, Mr. Sánchez immigrated to the United States seeking political asylum. He received a law degree from I.U. and an MFA from LIU. Currently, Mr. Sánchez is an attorney and enjoys traveling and cooking in his spare time. His publications in 2017 are available in Swamp Ape Review, Existere, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and 34thParallel . He is also contributor to “Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts”, listed by BuzzFeed as one of the best anthologies of 2016. His work has been nominated for The Best of the Net Anthology 2016 and for a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and 2016. He was awarded the Newnan Art Rez Program for summer of 2017.