NASA photo.

A huge segment of the legal community thinks that international law equals immigration law.  My local bar association even conflates the two ideas in its committee structure, which is so baffling that both the international lawyers and the immigration lawyers in town have given up trying to convince everybody else.  It staggers the imagination that a profession so concerned with precise language can’t see the distinction.

When somebody asks me about my specialty,* I tell them that I handle “anything that crosses a border.”  Naturally, they respond with “oh, great, I have a neighbor whose cousin’s housekeeper is being deported– I’ll send her your way.”

No.  Just… no.

So now, I always follow “anything that crosses a border” with a clarification: “paper– not people.”

Technically, I don’t practice in International Law– what I handle is Transnational, but I’ve abandoned the fight on that distinction.  The point is, I don’t handle immigration.  But I have a whole bunch of friends– spectacularly talented advocates– who do handle immigration, and I wouldn’t want to touch their specialty with a ten-foot pole.**

Even at that, it cannot be said that there’s such a thing as “immigration law”.  As I found out recently, it’s a bifurcated discipline, so it’s critical to identify the client in order to determine which kind of immigration law the attoney handles:

  • Business immigration lawyers serve business clients.  When they apply for an H1B visa, it’s on behalf of the employer– not the immigrant.
  • Individual & family immigration attorneys serve individual immigrants & their families– and even then, there are sub-specialties.

What I do is outward looking– cases originating here in the U.S. and Canada, dispatching procedural issues abroad.  I cannot prevent your neighbor’s cousin’s housekeeper’s deportation.

* Acknowledging that the words “specialty” and “specialize” get lawyers into trouble with their respective disciplinary authorities, I contend that such trouble is unwarranted.  If a guy says he specializes in traffic law, but doesn’t know how to plead down his wife’s speeding ticket in Kansas City Municipal, then they should get him on misrepresentation and false advertising.  Don’t smack down a family law attorney who says she specializes in divorce and custody disputes when she actually does so.  The simple linguistic fact is that we do specialize.  We have to.  Lawyers who don’t specialize are dead in the marketplace– a jack of all trades is a master of none, and clients need mastery.  Don’t ever come to me with a complex tax question or an estate planning issue or criminal defense matter (et cetera) unless there’s a cross-border element to it.  Even then, I’m a support guy– not primary counsel.

** One sub-specialty that skirts what I do:  refugee & asylum law– an area to be described later, in a different post.  But it’s only a very small portion of the immigration universe.