Immigrants—authorized and unauthorized—are important to the culture and economy of the state. Few know that as well as lawyer Xiaojuan “Carrie” Huang. Not only is she an immigrant, but her practice focuses on helping others work and live here legally.
“Immigration is an area that people have very strong opinions about,” she says. “I can’t change opinions, but I can spark a dialogue.”
Here are the facts of immigration locally, according to the Immigration Policy Center. A steadily growing number of immigrants make up 8 percent of Delaware’s population. Half of them are naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote. (That’s almost 6 percent of the state’s registered voters.) Foreign- and native-born Latinos and Asians enjoy about $2.7 billion in purchasing power. Their businesses gross $1.6 billion and employ 7,500 people a year. Immigrants made up more than 10 percent of the state’s workforce in 2010, and unauthorized immigrants made up 4.5 percent of the workforce, yet without them, the state would lose almost $1 billion in economic activity and 6,300 jobs.
That’s a lot of power.
Huang helps clients comply with immigration law. Half of her work involves helping individuals get legal status or green cards for family members. The other half—20 to 30 cases a year—involves helping large institutions and employers such as the University of Delaware, DuPont and AstraZeneca get work visas for specialized professionals or get green cards for longtime foreign-born employees who choose to live here permanently.
Huang studied law in her native China, then worked for the Supreme Court in Hunan Province for several years. (China is not a common law country, and the system is dominated by judges, not attorneys.) Having always dreamed of working as a litigator in an adversarial system, she moved to St. Louis, Mo., to study at Washington University School of Law. Upon finishing, she moved to Delaware to be near family.
She finds the U.S. system of judges, juries and attorneys “exciting—like a movie.” She finds Delaware to be an ideal place to practice: Its smallness breeds a tight-knit, cordial community of attorneys. “Because I have this huge accent, other lawyers would ask if I’d ever been discriminated against,” she says. “I have never been treated differently.”
While working in litigation at another local firm, she was asked often about immigration. She realized there was a need for a specialized practice, so she opened her own. She has worked exclusively in immigration law for the five years since. In addition to her legal work, she manages deimmigration.com, which updates readers on matters such as federal law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
“As an attorney, it’s very rewarding emotionally,” Huang says. “The sense of satisfaction is immense. We’re bringing people together.”