For attorney Veronica Walther, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based firm Walther Goss Law, immigration rights and human rights are one and the same. Walther didn’t always see things this way. Initially, she wanted to be a human rights lawyer, something she described in her application essay to Minnesota Law School. “I wrote about how I thought that, in a small way, I could help save the world,” she says. “That I could make people’s lives better, and do more than just something small here and there.” Today, she feels exactly the same way about immigration law – her firm’s primary focus. “We’re helping immigrants access so many things that otherwise they couldn’t: health care, financing, in some cases, government benefits. They’re coming out of the shadows. They feel more comfortable going to the police if something happens to them. Day by day, person by person, and family by family, we’re make a really big difference in the world.”
Since its inception in February 2010, Walther’s firm has grown to handle personal injury and worker’s compensation claims, as well as some criminal defense cases. They began as a staff of two and now employ 10 people. “There’s so many people that I would love to be able to hire, but because of how the immigration laws are, they don’t have work authority. It doesn’t mean that they’re not qualified, or they’re not capable. It just means that they don’t have a slip of paper for one reason or another. That’s very sad to me,” she says. Currently, everyone at the firm except Walther herself is a natural-born American citizen. She is happy to provide jobs to Americans, but she wishes immigration policy was more flexible for people trying to make a life here.
There’s so many people that I would love to be able to hire, but because of how the immigration laws are, they don’t have work authority.
Walther herself immigrated to the United States at age two, with her family, from Barranquilla, Colombia. “I grew up all over the place,” she says. “My dad was an engineer in an international construction company and he works a lot in the development phase of projects. So we would move about every year or two to a different city. A lot of that was within the United States, but we also spent some time in Egypt, Venezuela, and Canada.” Since Walther’s aunt already had obtained U.S. citizenship, she was able to sponsor Walther’s mother. At the time, in 1986, the family became residents easily. That couldn’t happen today, Walther says. “The wait times right now for siblings are astronomical in many cases. The process would be a lot more complicated and lengthy. Even some of my family wouldn’t be able to come in, if they tried today.”
Serving other Latino families like her own is also important to Walther. She recently volunteered with Latino Lawyer Camp, a weeklong camp for Latino eighth graders that enables them to meet lawyers, visit courtrooms, and witness different aspects of the law being carried out. A mock trial is also held. “It was just amazing what these eighth graders could do, going up and arguing in front of their parents at that last trial.”
Walther supports immigration reform, because she has seen what happens when families are torn apart. “Those can be some of the hardest cases to work on,” she explains. “You have to prove extreme hardship in their native countries to allow some undocumented immigrants to stay here, and that is difficult sometimes, to tell somebody, hey, yes, I know this is difficult, but it’s not enough hardship. That is really tough. I know over the years you get a little bit more jaded, bit it’s always difficult and you’re never ever going to get over that disappointment when you lose a case, and somebody doesn’t get approved. You know that this was their last chance, and they’re not going to be able to stay, they’re going to have to go back to a country they feel is unsafe or divide their family.”