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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Archive for February, 2012

“Do you have anyone I can marry?”

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

For those of you have who found true love with a foreign national, it can be bewildering how much paperwork you have to file to get permanent resident status for your spouse so that you can both live together here in America.

You may think, “We love each other and want to live together.  This is a real marriage.   Just how much evidence do we have to submit to get this done??”

Well, I just got a call the other day from a gentleman who was offering himself up for marriage, asking if I knew of any foreign ladies in distress in need of a green card.  This gentleman was a little surprised that my office was not interested in his services, and responded to my “Thanks, but, no thanks,” with a playful, “But who will ever know?”

Hah!  For those with real marriages whose green card applications are stuck in immigration limbo, you know that US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State aren’t such pushovers when it comes to proving a real marriage.  There are plenty of real marriages where husbands and wives have been living separately for years waiting for immigrant visas to be approved.  I’m sure these applicants would have plenty to say to the gentleman who was so ready to enter into a fraudulent marriage.

So, for all you international couples in love, let me warn you:  You may know that your love is real, but there are unscrupulous scam artists out there marrying for money who make proving the validity of your marriage that much harder.

If you would like expert assistance with the immigration process, Tran Law Associates is happy to help you out.  We understand what counts as strong evidence of a valid marriage and can help you make the best possible submission for your application.  You can contact us at (215) 690-1933, or check us out at

The spirit of the immigrant

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Following is a speech that I delivered last Friday at the Lunar New Year Banquet held by the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association of the Temple University Beasley School of Law.

I want to take advantage of this forum tonight to ask you to think about the spirit of the immigrant. As you may know, immigration is a theme that runs through my life. I practice immigration law, I am an immigrant myself twice over, and I work with APABA-PA on community outreach programs that target local APA immigrant communities.

Immigrants are my clients, my family, my friends and colleagues, and are a large part of the community that I strive to give back to in my pro bono work.

So I want to tell you a personal story.  It is about my family, but most of all about my father.

Last October, my parents came back from vacation, a cruise to New Zealand and Australia. They had visited friends and family and had had a good time and were in high spirits. By November, my husband remarked to me that my father was looking ill, and I had to agree. By December, my father had been diagnosed with advanced and aggressive colon cancer, which has metastasized and is attacking other parts of his body. Over the course of a few weeks, he transformed from an active person, a medical doctor with a bustling practice, an avid tennis player, gardener, tinkerer around the house, and jolly grandfather to my son, to a skeletal, bedridden figure whose voice had become labored and breathy with frequent pauses, someone who needs painkillers to get through the days and the nights. His life expectancy is in months, not years.

My father has handled this situation with a combination of stoicism and some quite understandable depression, but overall with grace and competence. He has not railed against his illness, or become defeatist and given up hope of a recovery. He has borne the pain of his disease, and the discomfort of medical treatment, without complaint. My husband has said to me that my father has handled this situation particularly well, much better than most members of his family would, and he added that it is not so surprising, considering what my father has experienced in his life.

So I have come face to face with the impending death of my father. It has made me think about his accomplishments and regrets, and of what he might want to do before he leaves this world. I have tried to put myself in his shoes, thinking back over the major decisions in his life, and get a sense of what it was like to be him.

My parents were childhood sweethearts who married in Saigon, Vietnam, shortly after dad finished medical school and mom finished law school. Their marriage began a few months before the fall of Saigon, and I was born a year later. Dad was a surgeon and the assistant medical director at a local hospital, and mom worked as an administrator at the same hospital. When I was three, we packed up our lives and fled Vietnam and communist rule on a rickety, overcrowded boat, joining the tide of Vietnamese known as boat people. We were lucky in that although our boat was raided by pirates, the pirates only took our belongings. They did not rape or kill. We ended up in a refugee camp in Indonesia, along with both my mom’s parents and siblings and my dad’s mother and siblings.

At times in my life when I was most at odds with my dad, mom would tell me, you don’t know how much your father loves you, and how much he’s sacrificed for you.

“When we were on that boat, your father and a few other young men spent hours bailing seawater out of the bottom of the boat so we wouldn’t sink, in exchange for drinking water, and after he exhausted himself doing that, the captain refused to give any of them drinking water,” my mother told me once.

The few photos that we have from the refugee camp show everyone in my family as stylishly thin, with prominent cheekbones and sucked-in cheeks, except for the young kids, like me, who were pleasingly plump because we were given the choicest foods.

After spending a year in the refugee camp, it turned out that although both my mother’s and my father’s families had been accepted to come to the United States, we could not come with them. Instead, we were on a waiting list, with no guarantee of when our number would come up. So, when my parents were offered the chance to leave the refugee camp and come to Australia immediately, or await their turn to come to the States where their families had already been accepted, they opted to strike out on their own and leave the refugee camp sooner rather than later.

My parents and I arrived in Australia with no family support, but the kind sponsorship of a Christian church group which helped us find housing, jobs, and provided us with what would nowadays be termed tastefully vintage second-hand clothes. (I loved those clothes!) In the years that we lived in Australia, we went from being the objects of charity to being a comfortable middle-class family, from refugees to citizens. My brother, Thai, was born in Australia, making us a family of four. My parents went from sorting mail at the local Australia Post mail center to white collar jobs. Dad’s resume runs from driving a cab to washing dishes to being a medical science officer. Mom at one point made hand-knit sweaters for pocket money when my brother was a baby, and eventually got her degree in computer programming and worked for the government. When mom was struggling to pass her classes because of her weak English skills, dad enrolled in her program so he could tutor her. He ended up collecting a degree in computer programming that he never used.

Although mom and dad had comfortable lives in Australia, dad had never been able to get back to the practice of medicine, his first calling. Dad has always been book smart, a constant reader. He graduated at the top of his high school class and did well in medical school, but he was never able to pass the foreign medical graduates exam, which he took several times.

Then, ten years after they built new lives from scratch in Australia, my parents were given the opportunity to emigrate to the States. Again they faced leaving what they knew, comfortable lives and good friendships, for the opportunity to reunite with their families and give my father the chance of obtaining his dream – to be a doctor again. Again, they chose to take a risk for the chance of greater gain.

Once we landed in the United States it took six years for my dad to get fully accredited as a medical doctor, which included passing the foreign medical graduates exam, obtaining clinical experience in the U.S. – a prerequisite before he could be admitted to a medical internship program – doing his internship, and then his fellowship. This included a stint where he lived in Newark, NJ, for two years, while we stayed in Philadelphia. Let’s just say, for those of you aware of the habits of drivers in Newark, NJ, that he came back a different driver after this temporary relocation. In any case, he became a fully fledged doctor – again – and opened his own practice so that he could be his own boss and not be dependent on others.

It has been 15 years since my father opened his practice. He had to close it down last month. He had planned to retire in a few years, and the sudden onset of his cancer forced him to abruptly shut it down. It is not what he would have chosen, but since there is no other choice he has accepted it and moved on.

In immigrant communities, my father’s story is not that unusual. Immigrants tend to open small businesses in larger numbers than native-born residents. They are more willing to take risks in pursuit of their dreams. And immigrants usually have faced and overcome significant hardship on the road to their new homeland, and maybe because of this, are often more persistent in pursuing their goals than native-born residents, more willing to push issues and not take “no” for an answer.

Many of you here tonight come from immigrant families, if you are not yourself an immigrant. So, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the spirit of the immigrant, many of whom, like my father, are brave risk-takers willing to endure hardship to forge a better life for themselves and their families. For those of you who, like me, owe a great debt to parents who were willing to start over in a foreign land to provide greater opportunity to their children, please don’t forget to show your appreciation. Too often we assume that our parents know that we love them and that we are thankful for the sacrifices they have made for us. Sometimes they do know. But it never hurts to say it and show that we mean it.

As law students in this economy, with the downturn in legal hiring, it may seem that law school might not have been the wisest choice. But whatever your long-term ambitions, one thing a legal degree and bar admission will allow you to do is to hang out your shingle. It can be intimidating to open your own business. It is a big risk. If you open a solo practice the buck stops with you and there is no safety net. But, drawing on the spirit of the immigrant, let me say that sometimes you have to take risks to achieve your dreams. That doesn’t mean you jump in with your eyes closed, and hope for the best. It does mean that whatever your goal is, there will often come a time when you have to give up a measure of safety to go after it. When that time comes, remember the immigrants who have come before us, who helped to create the opportunities we have today.

Thank you for allowing me to talk about my father tonight.

If you or your family is struggling with the naturalization process, trust an experienced immigration lawyer who has gone through the process herself. Learn more about Djung Tran, Esq. here.