Attorney Carol Armstrong has practiced law for more than 16 years. Armstrong became involved in immigration law working with businesses to bring employees to the United States. Photo by: Andrew Hazzard/Dispatch Staff
July 21, 2014 10:05:58 AM
A visitor's eyes turn to a green box of tissues that sits on the long, polished wood table surrounded by black, plush leather chairs in Carol Armstrong's office.
"There's a reason those are here," Armstrong said.
Armstrong is an immigration lawyer, and often the stories she hears bring her and her clients to tears.
She had a client brought to this country from Mexico as a small child by his parents. By the time he was 14, his parents had abandoned him. He took care of himself. He worked, paid his bills and eventually, he bought his own car. One day he was driving and got slammed into by another driver. He was not at fault for the accident, but he was at fault for not having a license or residency. Armstrong took the case and won.
The boy was sent to live with an aunt with legal residency in the U.S.
Armstrong, 45, said that many of her clients come from even more desperate situations, and though they may not have legal residency in this country they do still have some legal rights.
She has been practicing law for 16 years and has offices in both Starkville and Tuscaloosa.
She was trained in business law and she still works in that field. She became involved in immigration law by helping companies bring over employees. These days, her practice is split between business and individual clients. Getting official papers for either is challenging.
"Our immigration law says if you enter without inspection, you close the doors on many ways to get legal," Armstrong said.
When she goes to court, Armstrong has to hit the road. There are no immigration courts in Alabama or Mississippi. The closest locations are Atlanta, New Orleans and Memphis. Immigration is a federal matter, which is why laws that have been proposed in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia have been struck down.
"You cannot legislate immigration state by state," she said.
Armstrong said that many enter illegally because the legal entry system is hopelessly backlogged. There are only 10,000 U-Visas that lead to green cards administered nationwide each year. She said that her clients would love the opportunity to pay an entry fee to the government and register, but there isn't a legal way to do that for most of them.
There are many myths about illegal immigration, Armstrong said. Marrying a U.S. citizen, or having children who are born here is not enough to get people legal status.
"There is no truth in 'Anchor Babies,'" Armstrong said. " A child must be 21 years-old to sponsor a parent for citizenship."
Her clients on the business side come from all over the world, but even for them it is a long, daunting process. Employers must prove that they could not find U.S. citizens to fill the position of foreign workers. The most successful of such candidates fall under the Employment Based 1 category, meaning that they have "extraordinary ability." This is typically reserved for PhDs and professional athletes.
Her non-business clients typically come from Mexico, primarily the states of Chiapas, Michoacan and Veracruz--some of the most dangerous places in the nation. She said many of them are fleeing extortion and violence, and that many of them arrive only to face the same things here. Local criminals victimize illegals because they cannot call the police.
The influx of children crossing into the U.S. from Central America in recent months has put immigration law in the spotlight. Armstrong said it is important to note that immigration is a civil matter, not a criminal matter under our law. These children have been guaranteed protection by a U.S. law signed and championed by President George W. Bush.
"They are refugees," Armstrong said. " The law says that these kids are entitled to asylum here. I think these children deserve their due process. I know a lot of people don't agree with me and that's fine."
She is in favor of tight border security, but points out border security is not the real issue in this most recent conflict: The children aren't trying to evade security; they are simply turning themselves in to the Border Patrol.
"Border security is important," she said. "People who are criminals should be deported."
Armstrong said that the law guarantees children from non-bordering countries the right to a trial. These children are coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala--nations with astonishing murder rates and rampant corruption. She said that most of the animosity shown by protesters screaming at these children stems from ignorance.
"We have always been a country that looks to help others. That's one of the great things about this country," said Armstrong. "What surprises me is the animosity I see people direct toward people who are trying to improve their lives. It hurts me as a human and as a Christian."
1. Spears: CMSD tax hike unnecessary COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Higgins: $150 million project eying Lowndes Port COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. CPD officer involved in fight to go before city council COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. MSU horticulture student gains experience at Smith Landscaping COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY