My name is DeJeri Young, I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana, and currently am pursuing a
Graduate Certificate in Public Management at IUPUI. I obtained a B.A. in
Sociology/Anththropology from Earlham college in 2003 and have worked extensively with
immigrants and undocumented populations since my time as an undergraduate. I studied abroad
in Spain and while there I completed a service learning project at an organization called SOS
Racismo, which sought to document human rights abuses against immigrants and educate the
community regarding these populations in an effort to curb xenophobia
( My experience was particularly unique in comparison to many of
my classmates at the time due to the fact that I am black American and the Spanish natives
assumed that I was one of the many undocumented Africans encroaching on their perceived
liberties. As an American citizen who was treated as an undocumented immigrant in a foreign
country, I was forced to rethink my world view and the role of immigrants within my own
society. With globalization and the perpetual reshuffling of people from one area to another,
immigration and immigration attorneys have taken on an integral part in defining America and
shaping public policy. In a broad and figurative sense, they are literally the brush responsible for
painting the face of the nation.
Currently, I am employed as a Spanish language interpreter with the Marion County
Public Defender Agency, consequently, I experience daily first-hand why immigration attorneys
are so vital. I actually posed the question of “why it is important to have an immigration lawyer”
to several of my colleagues and there is a general consensus that views this area of the law as too
complicated and nuanced to give general counsel as to the specific effects that criminal
convictions would have on their respective client’s immigration status. The advisement and
waiver of rights on any standard guilty plea generally state that criminal convictions can lead to
denial of reentry, deportation, denial of citizenship, or loss of future immigration benefit.
A criminal defense attorney may not be apprised as to which of these is most likely to
occur and how they relate to the level of citizenship (i.e., work visa, U-visa, Permanent Resident,
etc.) and how that is in turn affected by the level of conviction (Level 1 felony, Level A
misdemeanor, etc.). Attorneys with our agency advise all non-citizens to consult with an
immigration attorney before pleading to any offense and often reach out to local lawyers, or the
Heartland Alliance National Immigration Center, who may suggest ways to alter agreements so
that they will have the least immigration consequences. While immigration attorneys may be
well informed as to how criminal and immigration matters overlap, criminal defense attorneys
are not always, partially due to the fact that criminal history is directly pertinent to all
solicitations for entry to the U.S, but all criminal defendants are not necessarily non-citizens.
Therefore, one of the most important reasons immigration attorneys are necessary, is to advise
non-citizens as to the consequences of criminal convictions; failure to receive proper advisement
could have unfortunate and potentially avoidable consequences.
Immigration attorneys have continually gained importance and relevance due to the ever
expanding administrative state. “…[F]or almost 100 years of the Republic’s history, …there
were no Federal laws of any consequence dealing with immigration” (Kennedy, 1964). In 1790,
the Naturalization Act was passed granting citizenship to all free whites (Cohn, 2015). Much
later during the 1870’s the first exclusionary measures were passed “They included bans on
criminals, people with contagious diseases, polygamists, anarchists, beggars and importers of
prostitutes” (2015). Eventually Africans brought as slaves were given citizenship, followed by
the Chinese Exclusion Act, various laws imposing quotas on the number of immigrants from
specific countries, and the Immigration and Nationality act (2015).
Due to the growing complexity of immigration law and restrictions, attorneys
specializing in the area are necessary to help individuals navigate the system and ensure that
their rights are not being violated. Illegal immigration and immigration from areas rife with
terrorism or armed conflict have been the subject of current legislation and visa issuance in
recent history. Most notably, John F Kennedy’s “A Nation of Immigrants” significantly
addressed the ideology of American citizenship and called for an end to restrictive policies based
on race, religion, and national origin (Kennedy, 1964). Consequently it is the duty of the
immigration attorney to maintain contact with the federal government during the application
revision process, on behalf of their client, affirming that agents are acting in accordance with the
United States Law. Additionally, immigration attorneys can offer assistance by “…asssistin[g]
with citizenship tests, obtain[ing] immediate access to citizen in emergency situations, represent
you in court, [and by] help[ing] you start a business in another country”
Immigration attorneys are most important in helping people enter the country legally and
representing the needs of people while they go through the process. For those already residing in
the country, either legally or illegally, immigration lawyers help people obtain or maintain legal
status. Most importantly, they assist criminal defense attorneys by giving advisement when non
citizens are facing criminal charges. People have been on the move for quite some time from
ancient African and Chinese trade routes, to current Syrian refugees; as the dissolution of borders
is continually promulgated by the use of modern technology, the role of immigration attorneys
will continue to be imperative, in that America perpetually redefines itself through the infusion
of foreign cultures.

Cohn, D’Vera. (2015) How US and Immigration Laws Have Changed Through History. The Pew
Research Center. Washington D.C., US.
Kennedy, John F. (1958) A Nation of Immigrants. (1964). HarperCollins, Broadway, New York.