Fellow Story

Fellow feature: Lynette Chen

Lynette Chen, a 2023 Justice Fellow in New Orleans, shares what she wishes she had known on her first day, how she copes with the stress and emotions of her job, and what makes her job worth the challenges.

Why did you become interested in immigration law?

I was interested in immigration law in the first place because I’m from a family of immigrants. It’s something that has always been a really big part of my life, my culture and my heritage. I want to practice immigration law because to me it’s more than just helping families adapt to life here. Speaking from personal experience, I know the importance of staying connected to your culture. I want to do immigration law because I want to explore that – helping immigrants adapt to life here while also staying connected to their roots.

What was something you wish you had known on your first day?

I wish I had known how to really assess the facts of a case to figure out the best type of relief to file for my clients. It’s something that I’m still really struggling to figure out. When I was working in the immigration clinic at my law school, I knew I’d be doing a SIJS case, and I’d be focused on just that. But now, having to do my own screenings and intakes, I’ve really had to slow down and think about what the best form of relief is, especially when taking a whole family into consideration. Because SIJS may not always be the best form of relief since it cuts off the benefits for the parents. 

At Project Ishamel, we do every step of the process – the screening, the intake, everything. You  have to really think about the types of questions you want to ask your clients in order to get a feel for what best fits their situation. I’ve found that talking with my clients, listening to their stories and facts, while also keeping the elements of different forms of relief in the back of my head has helped. I’m hopeful that I’ll get better at it over time.  

What has been the hardest aspect of your job so far?

The other week I was working on what I thought would be a very straightforward SIJS case. The client pulled out her immigration documents – what I thought would include typical paperwork — but there was a police report in there for aggravated rape from when she had just arrived in the U.S. at 14 years old. I was not expecting to see something like that from a child client, and it really affected me and my well-being. It was definitely a big shock and led me to pivot to pursuing a different form of relief. 

It’s just really heavy stuff, and you just never know what you’ll come across. I don’t know if it gets easier over time.

What strategies have you been using to cope with the emotional toll of your job?

I know IJC provides some resources, and I’ve been looking into those. But what’s been most helpful honestly has been talking with my co-Fellow about everything. We work in the same office space, and it’s been really great to bounce ideas off of each other. When it comes to really heavy topics, it’s really great to have someone else who is doing the same Fellowship. We try to give each other the support that we need. She’s one of my closest friends now. We also do a lot of things outside the office together. We’re in New Orleans so there are always fun happy hours going on, parades, whatnot. We always end up somehow talking about work while we’re going out, but at least if we’re going to talk about work, it’s good to do that over a nice drink. Personal hobby wise, I really like working out and I have a food blog, so I try to find new restaurants around the city.

What are you most proud of so far during your Fellowship?

Anytime a petition or work authorization form that I help put together is approved, I feel very happy about that accomplishment. But I’m also proud of my personal growth as an attorney. Learning to navigate the system, getting things done and seeing my clients and their families happy makes it worth it, no matter the difficulties and the work and everything that we had to put in beforehand. Giving a client good news and seeing their reaction is always worth it for me.