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A Day In The Life Of An LA Immigration Lawyer

This outdoor recreation area serves the general population at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Detention Facility in Adelanto.(File photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC)
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The Trump administration's shifting immigration policies are continuing to draw protests like the gathering of thousands in downtown Los Angeles over the weekend. But the changes in policy are also putting pressure on one particular profession: immigration lawyers.

L.A. County approved a budget last week to fund four additional immigration attorneys in the Public Defender's office, but advocates say that isn't enough with the current situation at the southern border.

Immigration attorneys are busy people right now, so we thought we'd try to get a sense of their day-to-day work. Katelyn Leese, a staff attorney with the Esperanza Immigrants Rights Project, who works with pro bono clients, outlined her average day in the office for us:

9 a.m. - Arrive at the office for client meetings, which last at least two hours each

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After joining Esperanza, Leese began working with more domestic violence victims, which makes client meeting more emotional and intense.

"I started initiating a policy that I would not have two interviews with two domestic violence victims in any given day because it's three or four hours of listening to somebody talk about the worst stuff that you've ever heard in your entire life," she said.

12:30 p.m. - Mail arrives

This is an important part of the day, because the immigration court communicates through writing. Denials, approvals, rejections, hearing notices, oppositions and requests for evidence are all sent by mail.

"This is also the moment when we learn that we submitted a form on the wrong color paper, used the wrong color pen to sign, or did not submit the correct form of photographic identification for the agency to complete the task we requested of it," Leese said. "It sounds incredibly mundane, but a single piece of mail can equate to hours of additional case work or completely change the direction of a case."

1 p.m. - Lunch, often eaten at one's desk, but that's not encouraged

Pro bono attorneys with the Esperanza Immigrants Rights Project hold a meeting. (Photo courtesy Esperanza Immigrants Rights Project)

2 p.m. - Research and writing

For every ten minutes that attorneys spend in court in a hearing, they spend hours on research and writing documents to prepare. Research is key Leese said because in an immigration case the immigrant has the burden of proof.

"That means that they have to prove every single element of their claim," she explained. "The government only has to prove that they're from another country and they don't have documentation."

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Attorneys spend time looking up conditions in their clients' countries of origin, things like corruption in the government and attitudes toward the LGBT community. The rest of the day can turn into "a black hole of research," Leese said.

8 p.m. - Office shuts and everyone who's still around has to head home


Many of Leese and her colleagues' clients are detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility, rather than being monitored in other ways while awaiting their appearances in immigration court.

Going to meet with clients at Adelanto is a day-long event, Leese explained. For them, the typical day goes like this:

6:20 a.m. - Leave for the Adelanto Detention Facility

8 a.m. - Arrive and check in for 8:30 a.m. hearing with a judge

10 a.m. - Finish hearing and request to speak to other detained clients. The roll call process at Adelanto called "count" has already started so you have to wait to see your clients.

11:20 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Client meetings

Sometimes, Leese said, she'll make the trip out to Adelanto and wait for a client meeting, only to be told that it won't be happening.

"You find out that your client is in a quarantine because there's a chickenpox outbreak or something like that, so you drive two hours and you can't even see your client," she said.

3 p.m. - Leave Adelanto Detention Facility and grab some fast food on the way back to the office to squeeze in a little evening work

Of course, those schedules aren't accounting for unexpected emergencies that come up, Leese said. Everyday is different and the current fluctuations in immigration policy are not making things easier.

"I think it's fair to say every week something happens where ... a regulation gets proposed or a court decision comes down that changes the landscape," she said.

The days may be long, but Leese added that she and her colleagues are lucky to do the work they do, and she's grateful to have this as her profession.

Editor's note: A version of this story aired on KPCC's Take Two. Listen to it here.

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