We welcome you to Zeman and Petterson News, where we will post in-depth summaries of client victories, information about U.S. immigration laws, and updates about our firm. Our overarching mission at Zeman and Petterson is to offer our clients holistic, high-quality immigration based legal services. Through this, we aim to find long-lasting solutions to the immigration issues our clients face. We believe we can fulfill our mission by bringing dedication, enthusiasm, attentiveness, and compassion to each case. To inaugurate our “News” section, we want to discuss the personal motivations that drive us to offer our clients the type of representation we highlight in our mission statement.

Shira and I became attorneys to help those whose place in our society may be vulnerable because of their language ability, education, age, lack of familiarity with the legal system, histories of abuse and illness, and/or disabilities. Although there are many areas of the law where attorneys can help others, we found our home in immigration law. There were a number of unique factors that coalesced to ignite the passion for immigration law in each of us. However, when Shira and I talked about opening Zeman and Petterson, we discovered that we had strikingly similar ideas about the vision and mission of our future practice. As we continued our discussions, we realized that this similar mission and vision stems in large part from our shared past experiences.

First, our families’ recent histories are the histories of immigrants.  We understand that the privileges and opportunities we have stem from the hardships our grandparents and great-grandparents endured, the sacrifices they made, and the risks they took.  Shira’s paternal great-grandparents fled Ukraine on foot because of the persecution they suffered under pogroms initiated against the Jews after the Bolshevik Revolution.  They boarded a ship to Canada and eventually settled in Chicago, where Shira’s grandmother was born.  My mother was born in the Philippines to a Filipina mother and a U.S. citizen father, who met and married in the Philippines shortly after World War II.  My grandmother, my mother, and my mother’s siblings immigrated to the United States in the 1950s and initially settled in Virginia.  My grandmother, although scarred by the wartime atrocities she witnessed in the Philippines and the discrimination and prejudice she faced when she lived in Virginia, became an operating room nurse and financially supported her family after the death of my grandfather.

Second, Shira and I were both welcomed into immigrant communities.  Our work is a way for us to thank those who both accepted us when we were strangers and helped open our eyes to the world beyond that in which we lived.  Neida, a Uruguayan woman, cared for Shira and her sisters when they were children.  She became a part of Shira’s family. Some of Shira’s fondest memories include attending barbeques in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with Neida, her family, and friends and sneaking sips of Neida’s Maté, dancing to music by the Brazilian singer Xuxa, and helping Neida study for her naturalization test.  Neida is now a U.S. citizen.  In 2012, Shira and her sister Merissa visited Uruguay for the first time and were warmly welcomed to the country by Neida, her sisters, extended family, and neighbors. Shirawelcome In 2004, I moved to Guatemala to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I lived in the city of Tactic, where I worked with the local Municipal Planning Office to train citizens about their rights under the laws passed after the end of the Guatemalan civil war.  I lived in an apartment above the home of a large family, who took me in as one of their own.  They helped me wash my clothes, watched telenovelas with me to improve my Spanish, and shared their food, time, and friendship with me.  Local storeowners, market vendors, neighbors, co-workers, even the shoe shine boys, looked out for me and let me participate in their lives.  They invited me to weddings, funerals, dances, fairs, meetings, and dinners.  My life in Guatemala was full and joyful because of the generosity these community members showed me.

Town Center Tactic

Town Center – Tactic, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (2006)

Third, Shira and I learned the nuts and bolts of immigration law from our former professor, current mentor, and friend, Alberto Benitez.  Under Professor Benitez’s supervision, Shira and I represented clients before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Arlington Immigration Court as student attorneys in the George Washington University Immigration Clinic.  During our time at the clinic, and over the years since, Professor Benitez taught us lessons that every new lawyer needs, including that good lawyers do not know everything, but can always find an answer, and one detail can and often does change a case. Professor Benitez taught us that officers and judges are human and we should connect our clients’ stories to their humanity.  Through Professor Benitez, we learned that as immigration attorneys, we are in the business of “saving lives and reuniting families.”  The responsibility is immense, but the rewards to our clients and their families are life changing.

Finally, Shira and I are motivated to be dedicated, compassionate, and enthusiastic immigration attorneys by our current and former clients.  Each of them has overcome significant obstacles.  They are the fathers who risked their lives crossing a desert so that their children would have the opportunities they did not.  They are the single mothers who work two jobs to provide for their families.  They are the human rights activists fleeing dictatorial regimes, the teenagers who made a few mistakes but are trying to turn their lives around, the parents raising a child with severe disabilities, the brothers living with HIV, the cancer survivors, the sons reuniting with parents they have not seen in decades, the entrepreneurs building new businesses, and the daughters fleeing abuse they can no longer endure.  At the same time, they are our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, and members of our religious communities.  They are both ordinary and extraordinary.

Although the immigration process can be scary and frustrating, it allows many people to tell their stories to someone who will listen.  It can be empowering, especially when clients are given guidance by their attorneys and have the information they need to make informed decisions about their future.  Oftentimes, our clients must trust us with information that they have never told anyone.  Knowing the struggles, triumphs, and dreams of our clients inspires us to do the best work we can for them.

We hope that our first post in our “News” section gives you a better idea of the passion behind our firm’s mission.  We are excited about bringing you news about our extraordinary clients, our firm, and U.S. immigration law.  We look forward to seeing you again soon and often.