“Every immigration lawyer I know is passionate about the work. Otherwise, it would be difficult to specialize in immigration law,” said Leslie S. Silverstein, Esq. this afternoon at her pleasant office on Newbury Street on the east end of Portland.
About seven (7)years ago, Leslie had her first experience in immigration law and it refocused her law practice, although she’d already been practicing for over twenty (20) years. She represented a young family from Burundi on their way to Canada where they now live. It was so full of unanticipated twists and turns that most would have said never again – not me. “That first case got me hooked. That changed my life as well as theirs. Our lives went in a different direction from then on,” she said as a cooling breeze came in the window beside us.
Seven years later from that initial experience, Leslie is now president of the board of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, (“ILAP”). It’s the only immigration legal services non-profit in the State of Maine. Mindful not only of the detention centers in Texas, but of the recent influx of asylum seekers from Texas to Portland, Leslie explained: “My understanding is that Trump’s upcoming ICE threat raids will be targeting those with prior removal orders. That does not affect the asylum seekers at the Portland Expo now,” she said.
Logically, asylum seekers have a much better chance of being approved if they are represented by a lawyer. “To navigate the process on your own is very hard,” Leslie said. This AG has made it particularly challenging to obtain asylum. For example, the AG has made it much harder to obtain asylum based on domestic violence. Secondly, the AG has restricted the grounds for obtaining a continuance in immigration court. Thirdly, he has practically ended the process known as “administrative closure” in immigration court.
Leslie explains that there are many different kinds of immigration cases. “There are employment based cases, non-immigrant visas, student visas, as well as many other types of cases. Asylum law is a “complicated area of law.” Clearly, it can be very traumatic for the person(s) seeking asylum and a very lengthy and hard to navigate alone. An individual in removal proceedings has no right to court appointed counsel. When a person says they are a green card holder, that means that person is on the “path to citizenship” in this country – barring any legal issues in the future.
Leslie is president of the Board of ILAP. She says of the few lawyers available for immigration work: “They are miracle workers.”
“All those who live in Maine and have either filed for asylum, or are in removal proceedings have their case heard in Boston,” Leslie clarified. South Portland has an immigration office that handles many other types of immigration matters other than asylum or removal; that means deportation.
“I can’t not do it,” she said.