Why I practice immigration and refugee law.

By Joel Sandaluk / Partner, Immigration Lawyer

People often ask me what made me decide to practice immigration law.

I did not come the realization that I wanted to be an immigration lawyer until I was in law school. In my first year, I studied the law in a general sense, as all students do. But I found that much of what I was learning felt disconnected from the concerns of real people. As a result, law did not feel particularly relevant to me. That is not to say that the law felt unimportant, just that it did not take on as much meaning as I believed it would before I went to law school.

When I realized that my interest was waning, I went to speak to my faculty advisor who was coincidentally, James Hathaway a world renowned refugee scholar. He suggested that I start volunteering at a legal aid clinic, the Community Legal Aid Services Programme [CLASP] and get some firsthand experience practicing law for clients. I took his advice and the next day I went to CLASP and asked if I could take on some cases.

Once I began volunteering at CLASP, my entire perspective changed. Instead of esoteric legal questions, I was engaging with real human beings struggling with problems in their lives and who needed help that I was able to provide. Suddenly, my decision to go to law school made sense and my desire to be a lawyer became all the more real.

Immigration is one of those fields of law where individuals experience government authority in a very visceral way. Immigration laws can have the effect of either saving or ruining the lives of an entire family. It was for this reason that immigration became the only field of law that I could imagine practicing.

I speak to many lawyers who tell me that they love the law. They love its logic, its intricacy, and its ability to influence the way that society functions. I am not one of those lawyers. The truth is that for the most part, I hate the law. I hate the way immigration law breaks up families. I hate the way that it causes long term residents to be deported. I hate the way that it causes people, many of whom who have mental health issues to be detained for months at a time. I hate the way that government officials can callously disregard the best interests of the people who appear before them begging for discretionary relief.

What sustains me is that I love my clients. Over the course of the 20 years that have passed since I started volunteering at CLASP as a law student, I have had the opportunity to meet and help people from every region of the world, every faith, and every walk of life, and I feel that my life has been made much richer for it. I often tell law students that there is no other field of law where an individual has the opportunity to encounter so many people with so many unique and compelling stories as immigration and refugee protection law.

It is with this in mind that I have decided to share some of the stories of my clients in order to give a better understanding why I practice and who I represent.

Obviously, no names or other identifying information will be revealed in blog posts, but it is my hope that by sharing these stories, I will shed light on the value that this field of law can bring not only to a lawyer like me but to society as a whole.

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