Immigration lawyer shortage nearing crisis

FILE photo

Amid the current political climate, the demand for immigration lawyers is skyrocketing. It's creating a significant shortage of experts qualified to represent immigrants, families and employers.

Lewis & Clark law professor Juliet Stumpf says supply of immigration lawyers, however, has remained level, and non-profit organizations and advocacy groups are already overwhelmed or overextended.

Stumpf says it's unfair to point the finger only at the White House. She says Congress has not significantly updated immigration laws since the 1990s.

"In 1996, Congress passed some of the harshest immigration legislation," Stumpf said. "It took away some of the ways that we have always just historically allowed people as a nation to regularize their status."

Immigration lawyers provide more services than only representing clients who are seeking permanent residency. Stumpf says lawyers help those who need to change their immigration status for employment or humanitarian reasons and offer basic immigration advice.

"Immigration law is really focused on family unity," she said. "It's not broken, it's just... like any other infrastructure... the legal infrastructure needs an update."

Criminal defense attorneys helped an Iranian family after Alia Ghandi was denied entry to the U.S. at the Portland International Airport last Wednesday.

Finding an immigration lawyer on such short notice was tough.

The Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association sent a mass email asking attorneys to go to the airport to help represent the family.

Attorney Rob Crow was one of about a dozen who went to the airport.

"We're basically shooting from the hip, trying to figure out what can we accomplish," Crow told KATU Wednesday. "I'm at the end of what I can do to help, I think."

Crow specializes in criminal defense and DUII cases and is not considered an expert in immigration law. However, he succeeded in preventing federal agents from immediately deporting Ghandi.

Stumpf says the solution is complicated and multi-faceted. She says state and federal lawmakers need to revise immigration policy and that advocacy groups need to become more creative.

Stumpf added that she's seen an increase of law students interested in immigration law, a positive sign for the future.

"What happens to immigrants is so closely connected to the rest of our civil rights, that people are showing up to the airport through calls or just spontaneously because they are seeing, they're saying that connection," Stumpf told KATU. "If we don't protect the rights of immigrants, we all, the whole community starts to lose."

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