On June 1, United States President Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued a proclamation declaring June National Immigrant Heritage Month, encouraging reflection on the stories of “courageous families who ventured here—be it centuries ago, or just this year—from every part of the world to seek new possibilities and help to forge our nation.”
One family to make such a journey was that of Aleksandar Cuic, adjunct professor of law and director of the Immigration Clinic at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center since 2017. Originally from Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), Cuic’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1970, first settling in New Jersey and then in Cleveland as they found jobs in slaughterhouses and factories to give their three children better opportunities. Eventually, they opened their own business.
The youngest of his siblings, Cuic describes his journey to a career in immigration law as serendipitous—the result of degrees in Russian language and international business, an MBA and a JD paired with well-timed career opportunities. Now, he’s shaping the next generation of immigration lawyers at the School of Law while also working with clients as a partner at Brown Immigration Law.
Here are Cuic’s “5 things to know” about immigration.
1. Immigration law has not really changed since 1997.
While other immigration policies tend to evolve through regulations or presidential policies, the fundamental framework of immigration law is 24 years old, first set on April 1, 1997. And it hasn’t changed since. When people say our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, they’re right—it’s really archaic for our current times.
2. Immigration doesn’t just involve refugees.
As I tell students, immigration does not just involve people coming across the border or those who speak a certain language. While there are plenty of immigrants seeking reunification with their families or seeking protection, there’s also entire industries looking to recruit experts in their fields to work here and benefit our country. Past clients of mine have included a surgeon who designed a revolutionary approach to blood testing in cardiac surgeries, an engineer who designed eyeglasses for the U.S. military for use in desert combat, athletes who compete at the highest levels in their sports—immigration runs the gambit of people who are horribly impoverished or at risk for their lives to those who are internationally renowned. And they all bring great value and are deserving of help.
3. Practicing immigration law is a three-legged stool.
When people think of immigration, and especially how it relates to law, they often default to thinking of cases in court that involve deportation or refugees. But that’s just one leg of a three-legged stool: immigration court, family, and employment.
In the second leg, we represent families who are getting green cards, citizenship and other official documentation. And in the third, we’ll often represent corporations, whether it’s for I-9 compliance to meet hiring standards, recruitment of multinational executives, coordinating with musicians, you name it. I work with a lot of Canadian bands who are coming to the U.S. to go on tour and need work visas, for instance—people don’t tend to associate that with immigration law, but it is!
4. Notario fraud is a huge problem.
In Central America, people known as “notarios” have huge authority, and they abuse it. There, “notarios” go around to communities, fill out paperwork for people wishing to obtain legal status in the U.S., take their money… and then leave town. We’re actively trying to combat this fraud, but it’s a widespread problem with countless victims. And when it comes to fraud in the U.S., the stakes are even higher when someone speaks a different language or dialect, yet we treat their signature on any documentation as law. It’s a huge issue for people who come from rural communities and are often uneducated.
I began my career in ethics and professionalism, and—in a field known for issues with ethics at times—I’m adamant with my students that you should treat each client as you would your parents, without letting empathy cloud your judgment. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s better to be honest than to be unethical and take their money.
5. We’re all immigrants.
Immigration is part of our country’s fabric, and we wouldn’t be what we are today if it weren’t for the immigration of our past. Even if your family has been in the U.S. for generations, your story was shaped by immigration, too. The cliche of America being a melting pot really is true.