Self-care: The Ultimate Advocacy Tool

As an immigration lawyer, it’s hard to not be an advocate for immigration reform. We see up close how outdated the system is. Whether we are trying to help asylum seekers, families reunite, Afghan nationals facing life or death situations, or business startups, all aspects of immigration laws in the U.S. need an update. Recent covid-19 policies and related backlogs coming on the heels of the Trump era have turned us into advocates-on-wheels (I’d rather not call us hamsters!). The Build Back Better immigration provisions just got shot down for the third time and Senator Manchin announced he wasn’t going to vote for the bill anyway. We’re tired and exhausted. Yet, we know we cannot stop. Our clients and our communities need us. But our minds, bodies, and spirits need a break. So, I want to encourage you to find time for self-care.


I’ve been practicing immigration law in the United States since 2006. My memorable milestones of advocacy include the 2009 recession, 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, 2014 executive actions, 2015 to 2016 presidential election, 2017 to 2020 Trump Era, and 2020 to 2021 Covid issues. Pretty much the entire time I’ve been practicing things have been difficult for one reason or another. But I know that these are your memorable milestones too. We’ve been advocating as one voice.


Though we head into the Christmas break, we know our advocacy must continue in earnest in 2022. We will need to be the voice for a path to citizenship and so much more.


But it’s time to think about ourselves a little. Covid-19 allowed me to get some perspective. We have learned during this global pandemic that we are all connected. There are no six degrees of separation anymore. A microscopic virus infected the entire world. We are undoubtedly connected. And therefore, this connection warrants a perspective on how we make all of our lives better. I have concluded that ‘love’ is the answer. How so?


Love is the foundation of everything. That’s the wake-up call I’ve had in the last 20 months of living in the pandemic. After being thrown into work-from-home, zoom-schooling, meeting requests for evidence and other immigration deadlines with paper filings while in lock-down, I realize that we need to give ourselves grace. Love ourselves more. Recharge our batteries—not once a year, but every day.


It may seem too simple a concept. But think of self-care and self-love as your advocacy tool. Think of it as your oxygen mask. To help others, to advocate for immigration reform all over again, to face the continued immigration and life challenges in 2022, we need each of us to be vibrant and strong. And it starts with yourself.


AILA now has a self-care-focused committee: the AILA Lawyer Well-Being Committee with ongoing roundtables and member resources.  Make time on your calendar to engage and learn about caring for yourself as part of having a successful practice. A shout out to my AILA-Washington Chapter colleague Franca Baroni for leading some of these efforts.


In addition, make time in your day for yourself – even if it’s for five or ten minutes. I promise you can find ten minutes for yourself if you try. Use the time to quietly sit with yourself, take deep breaths, or just read a book. Self-care can be so many things: walking, playing a sport, taking up some form of art. I started watching birds on my deck for ten minutes a day. I now fancy myself as a bird and nature photographer and find endless joy in it.


The bottom line is this: Please do something for yourself that brings you joy. Your joyful self will send positive ripple effects to everyone you come across. 


Imagine if there were 16,000+ immigration lawyers sending positive energy in the world! I think we can make change happen. So, think of you and your self-care as our most powerful advocacy tool. Let’s try this as a new collective strategy and see what we can accomplish in 2022.

by Tahmina Watson