Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Navigating the Complex and the Arbitrary in the Immigration Law Unit

Stacy Lam’s mother suggested she become a doctor because it would be “an easier career path” than becoming a lawyer. It would be a life of perpetual problem solving after years of rigorous study.

“She was on to something, but it’s incredibly satisfying,” she laughs.

Immigration law, her focus for the last 20 of her 25 years at The Legal Aid Society, is an especially complex set of problems to solve. It requires an astute knowledge of federal and state laws, and when a certain law went into or out of effect.

Despite its legalization in 2022 in New York, she has clients still facing marijuana charges, for example. They came to the States as young children, and in early adulthood, were caught with often small amounts of weed.

Even though New York State legalized marijuana in 2022, because it’s still illegal federally, they still find themselves in deportation proceedings.

Some judges will terminate the case. Others won’t.

“It can be very arbitrary”, Stacy explains. “You can get convicted of a felony in NY state – which doesn’t necessary mean it’s serious, by the way – or you can get convicted of a misdemeanor that’s a felony in federal law, and that could get you deported.”

In addition to the complexities and arbitrariness found in immigration law books, she must manage misinformation spread throughout immigrant communities.

Sometimes, it’s misinformation delivered with best intentions.

“So many clients have been scammed. They hear by word of mouth in the community: If you’ve been here 10 years and you have kids, you can apply for this 10 year visa and stay. There’s no such thing as a 10 year visa! They try and get working papers, but then dinged for a bogus filing which counts as a strike against them and could land them in removal proceedings.”

Help Stacy Serve Even More New Yorkers

Your donation helps staff members like Stacy as they bring justice in every borough.

Donate Now