Season 1 - Episode 3: Nusrat, a Los Angeles-based immigration lawyer, explains the legal complexities facing asylum seekers, refugees and other immigrants coming to the US. Drawing upon her own background, Nusrat paints a picture of compassion for those leaving their homeland.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast below:


Graham:  I'm Graham. I'm back in Los Angeles and ready to do another episode of straight white guy listening. I'm going to be talking to Nusrat. She's a lawyer who deals in Immigration law. I thought she could really help us understand the current situation.

Graham: Hey! How are you doing, Nusrat. 

Nusrat: Good! How are you?

Graham: Good.

Nusrat: Come on in.

Graham: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Graham: If you don't mind, I'd like to start on a personal level. Kind of see how you got involved and your personal story. And why you were drawn to helping out people.

Nusrat: My parents were both my parents are born in India but they migrated to Pakistan when Partition happened, when India and Pakistan split up. Like I went to Pakistan a lot as a kid. I've always seen refugees going as a kid and seeing a kid on the street. Who were at the same age and they're in such a desperate state. It's really impactful. You know, you don't forget that. I mean my parents and their families are refugees. You know they were fleeing war and violence. I mean my mom's family especially was pretty well established in India but they were forced to leave their neighborhood because they're Muslim. My dad didn't have a college degree but he worked his way up to become an engineer. But knowing that they had to make those choices, have had to leave home, or have faced dangerous situations. I identify with my clients a lot. And want to help as best as I can.

Graham: On the refugee level, Syria is a big one right now and that's one most people hear about. And I know that's not necessarily your direct experience. But there's people being displaced all over Europe. And then there's distrust of people coming in. Fears of terrorism. And of course now with the administration their argument is that they're trying to keep America safe. But that's changing the whole legal workings over immigration. I mean now just with all that in mind, have you felt the shift? Can you feel it legally on your level?

Nusrat: It's made a huge impact. At the beginning with the travel ban it was. And it made a huge impact. I mean imagine people that had gone through this entire refugee process. It's a very long process. I mean people growing up generations in a refugee camp finally getting to the end point of getting their visa and coming to the U.S. and being told, "No, you can't come." After all of that. After everything that they have gone through and all of the crazy vetting that's already going on right now.

Nusrat: It's based on bigotry and stereotypes of people that are just completely untrue. Practically speaking the way it's worked is obviously there is a travel ban. Beyond that there were other internal memoranda within DHS telling people not to take any final actions on any application submitted by anyone from the seven countries. It's chaotic. They don't know what they're supposed to do what they're not supposed to do and it doesn't make sense. It's really impacting people and it's really hurting people. These are human beings it's affecting. There are people being detained left and right. It's happening a lot. I mean people still have legal rights, they still have a Fifth Amendment due process right in immigration proceedings. They don't have full constitutional rights because they're not U.S. citizens, but they have certain protections that are fundamental.  

Graham: I guess for a lot of people that are just born in America. There is this faceless group of people coming in and trying to take jobs or be violent or disrupt the American way. If there are some specific instances that you know personally to kind of put a face with who are these people trying to come.

Nusrat: There is a young woman, I think she is from El Salvador. And she was targeted by the Mara Salvatrucha gang, which is like a really dangerous gang. Of course it's like one of the two really big gangs there. And some gang members took a liking to her and started harassing her. Following her. All she wanted to do is go to school, live a normal teenage life. She could not do it. Constantly following her around. And harassing her until it escalated to the point where they went to her home, raped her.

Nusrat: Taped it. To blackmail her. And it's like an initiation thing where people can be forcibly recruited into a gang. And she didn't want to leave but she had to because she would have been killed or had to join the gang. But either way she would have been subject to really brutal violence. So she had some relatives in the US that helped pay for her pay a coyote to get her to the U.S. border. And crossed over.  

Nusrat: And it's sad when you apply for asylum. It's not like it's like the Holy Grail or some because when you're a refugee it's a very different thing. You can't go back to your country. If you apply for asylum in the U.S. and protection of the US you as you can now go back to the country you came from, because that's what you're saying is that it's unsafe. You can imagine how hard that would be for someone.

Nusrat: I've met plenty of people that were brought as kids because her parents just wanted them to have a fair shot at getting educated. And you know having a stable, safe environment to live in. And, you know, finding out when they can get their driver's license that, "Wait, why can I get my driver's license? Why can't I get this job? Why don't I have a Social Security number?"

Nusrat: And then just like having to live knowing nothing about the country where you were brought from because you were so young or very little. And then ending up in this situation in the U.S. where it's like, "Well, I'm American. This is all I know, this is all I've ever known." But the law doesn't recognize you. You know, immigrants are everywhere. They're absolutely everywhere in this country. And it would be so insane to think that immigrants are rapists and criminals. You know, they're everywhere.

Nusrat: They're working everywhere. They're your neighbors. They go to school with you. They're your teachers, your doctors, they are people that are working at the restaurants you go to or run the restaurants you go to. Just talk to them. Talk to these people on a human level and recognize it's not some big scary blob of like, "taking your jobs slash terrorist slash whatever." You know. That's what people forget. You're still a lot luckier than a lot of the world just by virtue of the accident of your birth being in this country, in this legal territory. And what attaches to it.

Nusrat: Personally like when we first talked about this, I had some mixed feelings. Not about you but to the you know White Man in general. Like, "I don't care what the way man thinks. The White Man can think whatever he wants. I'm going to live my life the way I want. It's not my job to teach someone. People need to educate themselves."  

Nusrat: But I guess this is one way for them to do it. Because honestly especially after Trump was elected a lot of brown people and minorities, we're tired. We're tired of having to explain ourselves all the time, tired of having to explain or situations, show how good we are. Model Minority. All that B.S. Just act on the human level, recognize each other's humanity, recognize that you have your faults and everybody has their faults and we're all just trying to get by. Just remember that you're a lot more alike. You probably a lot more in common with your immigrant neighbor than you do with someone like Trump. So I guess that's all I can say. You know it sucks that we're in the situation we're in right now. But one positive, I guess, is that people are paying a lot closer attention and learning a lot more about how complicated all of this is, that it's not as simple as like.  

Nusrat: Something that drives me crazy is when people say, "Oh, get in line. Do things the legal way." It's like that's not how immigration is. There's no line. You know. I'm glad that people might be taking the time now to try to understand that. Understand it's complicated and have some empathy for the people that are going through it. So I guess that's one thing I'm hoping comes out of the bad situation we're in right now is that more and more people are educated and have more empathy for the people that are at the receiving end of immigration policy.

This interview was transcribed using a third-party service. Please excuse any errors.