Proud to be a Canadian immigration lawyer

By Adam Hummel / Immigration Lawyer

A few weeks ago was the 31st anniversary of my family’s arrival in Canada from South Africa. We have certainly come a long way since arriving here, but we have kept some souvenirs from our journey to Canada such as our old passports and the now-rusted lock that secured all of our belongings in a storage container that slowly made its way across the sea from South Africa to Canada. These items remind us of where we come from, and how far we have come.

31 years later and here I am, a Canadian citizen actually practicing immigration law in Toronto. It is a result that perhaps my parents did not contemplate when they first arrived here, but is something that I think about often as I practice law.

I am by no means the only immigrant or child of immigrants practicing law at this firm. In fact, there are only a handful of “Canadian” lawyers with whom I work, the rest of whom have roots in places like the UK, Iran, Croatia, Vietnam, Morocco, and Poland. This diversity is something I realized only after I started to work here, but it is certainly something that I find fascinating, whether or not the other lawyers decided to practice immigration law because of or regardless of the fact that they themselves have immigrant roots.

That being said, if they decided to become an immigration lawyer in this country because of their own immigration experiences, then they are definitely well equipped to handle the perspective and the tools that are required to be an effective immigration lawyer in Canada.

There is no question that immigration is a buzzword in today’s world, and at least since last summer, I have increasingly found that it is an issue that people are almost required to have an opinion about, like the conflict in the Middle East or ketchup v. mustard (the correct answer is ketchup).

Whether it is a humanitarian, political, moral, or economic question, immigration seems to elicit in people a visceral reaction that I find fascinating.

Since I started practicing immigration law, I have observed so many various responses to my answer when people ask me what sort of law I practice. There is admiration, there is surprise, there is a shoulder shrug, and there are people who ask me “Why?”

My answer to this question is as follows: immigration law is interesting. The practice area is diverse, the field is dynamic, and unlike other areas of law, the policies change with the ups and downs of the Canadian government and international trends. Each case has a specific goal in mind, whether it is permanent residence, citizenship, or the ability to simply stay and work in this country, and the outcome of their cases is concrete and material: you emerge not with a sum of money, but with a piece of paper that enables you to experience this country. On top of this, I find our clients to be incredibly thankful for the work that we do for them, and the bar of immigration lawyers to be friendly, helpful, and passionate.

Now, if the person who asked me why I practice immigration law is still listening after this long answer, I would also add the following: fundamentally, immigration is an incredibly important aspect of any society’s development. It enables immigrants to go forth and discover a world outside of what they know, and it forces those who live in the host-country to compare themselves to those newcomers and challenge themselves to live up to the expectations that they have maybe set for their own country.

Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Minister of Justice, likes to talk about how his daughter has a test for how society is doing by looking around every now and then and saying “is it good for the children?” which is a new take on the adage that “we are only as strong as our weakest link.” I would argue that this is something that immigration forces us to do as a society every now and then: look at those who are coming to Canada in search of a better life, or even just the ability to have a life at all, and consider whether we are living up to our own greatest potential.

Now, this answer may sound incredibly idealistic, but I know that there are issues that plague the immigration debate such as the changing nature of a nation’s character, or the use of resources and the fact that our country should not always have to make up for the mistakes (intentional or otherwise) of other countries. I know and acknowledge this, but it does not take away from the importance that immigration plays in our world.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, and as our very own Minister of Immigration (also an immigrant) has recently stated, Canadians should expect to welcome many more thousands of immigrants to its borders in the next few years. As long as they pose no danger to our way of life, and simply wish to contribute to everything that makes Canada the envy of other countries, then I would be happy to help them just as Canada helped my family 31 years ago, when my parents were looking for a better world in which to raise their children.

I now have a young daughter. A few weeks ago when we received her birth certificate, as proud as I was that it reflected her Canadian citizenship, I was equally proud to see my details printed on the form showing my place of birth as South Africa. It made me feel both lucky for the opportunities that Canada has given me, and lucky to be able to reciprocate and make a contribution of my own to this country that I call home.

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