On Losing Cases During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Staff Attorney Lisa Herrera

Losing a case is tough whether or not we’re in a pandemic. Unfortunately, immigration court proceedings are one of the few things that continued during COVID-19 so we never stopped representing clients. Moreover, data shows that community members who are represented by an attorney have a much higher chance of securing some form of immigration relief than those who are unrepresented. This forced us to quickly adapt to remote representation and motivated me to continue to take as many cases as I could even when I knew they might be difficult to win. Despite this motivation, each loss has been emotionally exhausting. Losses are doubly discouraging when immigration judges are unpredictable in their rulings.

Social distancing has made this work increasingly difficult. Because I am immunocompromised, I need to maintain a strict quarantine and have been working remotely since the first week of March 2020. We have done the best we can but there are some parts of legal representation that are just not the same without in-person contact. It is heartbreaking to never see a client face-to-face and yet have to deliver awful news that seems like it should only be delivered in person. It’s also incredibly isolating to face these losses from our homes without colleagues around to commiserate.

At the same time, when a case is either difficult itself or difficult because of the pandemic, the impact of our involvement is even greater. And even though fewer people are currently detained compared to before the beginning of the pandemic, there will always be a dire need for representation.

Regardless of outcome, my clients are appreciative of the effort that goes into a case. Even clients who have lost and are upset have never aimed that frustration towards me. Whether we win or lose, our clients exhibit unbelievable generosity and gratitude towards our staff. It is so difficult to win a case without an attorney that by providing them with NWIRP legal representation, my clients believe they are putting their best case forward. They know that at the very least, they are being heard. I have had quite a few teary discussions with clients who feel a sense of relief even when they get bad news, simply because they know we did our best.

The immigration system in this country is profoundly unjust. Oftentimes, cases are lost because the system is designed to exclude people instead of providing them with safety and security. Although losses are never going to be easy, we have a responsibility to continue to fight both for our clients and for immigration reform.