There are times, says Nancy Wolf, that her work can be heartbreaking.
“I found out, while he was on the witness stand, that a client had been lying to me for months,” Wolf says, recalling an immigration asylum case gone awry.“He was handcuffed on the spot and taken away. I just cried.”
But she insists that the good far outweighs the bad in her pro bono work with immigrants seeking asylum and family reunification.
“This kind of work validates your life,” Wolf says. “There are very few things that you can look at with such pride than feeling like you took care of another human being.”
Though most of Wolf’s work at Briggs and Morgan focuses on helping employers gain green cards and work permits for valuable employees, she has been doing pro bono family reunification and asylum work for nearly 20 years. In that time, she has worked with people from Tibet to Honduras to Ukraine, all in hopes of bringing families together in the relative safety of the U.S.
She recalls the case of a Tibetan refugee who, during a trip to Northern India to see her family, met and married a Chinese man. She became pregnant and returned to the U.S., but her husband was not able to join her. After discovering the baby had a birth defect and would die soon after birth, the husband was allowed to come to the U.S. on “humanitarian parole.” He arrived in the U.S. shortly after the baby died, and officials wanted to send him back to India.
“She was depressed, and when it came time for him to go home it was too hard,” she says of her client. “She needed him here.”
Luckily, before he left, Wolf discovered that he had worked for the Free Tibet political movement in China in the mid-1990s, and had been sought by Chinese authorities.Some of his co-workers had been arrested or had disappeared, causing him to flee across the Himalayas on foot, eventually making it to Northern India, where he met his wife.
“They traveled with a guide across the entire Himalayas, eating what they could find and changing into the clothes of the locals to avoid suspicion,” she says.
The story helped Wolf convince a judge to grant the man political asylum, and he now lives here with his wife.
“They are good friends of mine,” she says. “I have celebrated many Tibetan New Years with them, and we exchange Christmas presents.”
Wolf says she enjoys working with employers to help keep their talented foreign-born employees in the country, though she thinks U.S. immigration law is too complicated.
“The system is arcane and hard to understand,” she says.“The procedures are constantly changing, and then you have to explain it all to your client.”
But aside from the difficulties that can come with employment immigration law, Wolf says her pro bono work makes up for the frustrations.
“This kind of work allows me to say my being on this earth has made a difference,” she says.