Attorney Alyssa Nguyen opened her immigration law practice, Nguyen Firm LLC, after an early career clerking for a senior judge, working as a prosecutor and two notable law firms. She draws upon her 15-plus years of experience in the law to deliver creative, purposeful solutions in complex immigration matters and related areas of criminal and family law.
Nguyen’s reputation is well-established among immigration law professionals on both sides of the issues. She is a known authority in this rapidly evolving area of law who is frequently invited to present on related topics. She speaks at conferences and provides CLE training for the American Immigration Law Association (AILA) and is called upon by criminal, family and employment law attorneys to counsel them on immigration-related matters. She acts as a mentor and provides pro bono representation to the Immigrant Law Center and U of M law school bond project.
Nguyen’s varied experience helps her link disciplines together in a way that maximizes value to her clients. “As a former prosecutor, I know what the immigration consequences are for my clients who face criminal charges. I can more creatively craft a plea agreement that avoids immigration consequences without going to trial. Any criminal issue that involves a violent crime or a domestic issue, like the violation of an Order for Protection, there is serious immigration consequences, even for someone with legal status.”
On the family law side, immigration issues may arise in the context of alimony and support. When someone petitions for a family member to get legal status such as a green card, the petitioner signs a contract with the government promising to be financially responsible for the immigrant family member, called an Affidavit of Support. This means if the immigrant family member goes on welfare or gets state aid, the government can go after the petitioner for any benefits that immigrant family member may have obtained. The federal courts have ruled that the affidavit of support is a binding, third-party contract. That contract is also binding in the family courts.
Her expertise is invaluable to attorneys across other disciplines, who oft en hire Nguyen to consult on immigration-related aspects of their cases. “The intersection between immigration and other areas of law is so important. I oft en counsel other attorneys who do family, criminal or even employment law. For instance, an employment lawyer may come to me because their client has a discrimination issue against a big corporation. If they’re here on a work visa or are undocumented, the case becomes more complex and the lawyer must come up with a creative solution to protect their client, otherwise the employer could simply call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have the client removed. There are so many legal situations where if the attorney does not have some knowledge of immigration law, there could be serious consequences for their client.”
FROM NEWCOMER TO NATIONAL
Nguyen’s firm motto, “One Goal, One Passion – Justice,” reflects her single-minded approach to client advocacy. Her diminutive stature and youthful appearance are sometimes misapprehended by her opponents, who assume she is a professional of lesser experience. However, they quickly find that Nguyen’s razor intellect and grasp of the law make her a worthy adversary. Her combination of legal know-how and personal charm contributes greatly to her healthy working relationships with prosecutors, the court and ICE officials who respect both her expertise and her character.
“I have a reputation in court and amongst my colleagues for being a spitfire,” she laughed. “But I know the prosecutors, ICE and the immigration court staff and get along so well with them. Having those positive working relationships is very important to getting resolution for my clients.”
Nguyen prefers to keep her personal life private but allowed a glimpse behind the curtain when speaking about the events of her childhood. She expressed how those early experiences left an indelible impression upon her and set the stage for who she is today – an empathetic and passionate legal advocate.
“We were refugees. I was a young child when my father and two siblings fled Vietnam after the Communist war. My mom and two other siblings were left behind because they did not make it to the boat on time. And although dad was very educated in Vietnam, when he came to the United States, he had to start all over. For the first time in his life, he had to raise three young kids alone and take whatever job he could to raise us. I saw his struggles, and as a child, I decided I was going to make something of myself.”
In elementary school, Nguyen already had her sights set on being a lawyer. Against all odds, she worked full-time and put herself through college and law school and achieved her dream, graduating cum laude from William Mitchell College of Law.
Nguyen understands first-hand the vulnerability of America’s immigrant population and what it takes to get legal status and eventually become a U.S. citizen. She is committed to preserving her clients’ dignity alongside their legal rights, and she creates an environment of trust that endures even when things do not go as planned.
This area of law changes very rapidly. One of the most important things I can do for my clients is giving them the right expectations and keeping them informed, which can be difficult because the law changes so rapidly.”
“This area of law changes very rapidly. One of the most important things I can do for my clients is giving them the right expectations and keeping them informed, which can be difficult because the law changes so rapidly. I litigate a lot in deportation court, but hearings are scheduled years out. As an example, two years ago, we filed for asylum because my client suffered substantial domestic violence in her country. The final hearing is set for 2020, and the law has recently changed on whether asylum based on domestic abuse is even a viable claim. Now expectations have changed. It’s a hard conversation to have with a client, to tell them, ‘Here’s what’s happened since we filed.’ It’s so important to keep communication open so they know what’s going on and that you as counsel are doing the best you can for them.”
In a practice where family turmoil and global political upheaval are daily concerns, stress is part of Nguyen’s job description. However, her unfailing optimism trumps all. “As an immigration attorney, you don’t just get to know the clients, but their entire family. Kids are the toughest for me to see. I tell my clients, ‘Please don’t expose your kids to adult or legal issues. Let them focus on school, having happy ties and just being a child.’ The most gratifying part of my job is seeing I have kept families together and seeing how those clients that I have helped are successful and productive members of society. Things may be tough now in the immigration arena, but the higher courts are always coming back with a new decision, and things change. I think of the positive.”
Nguyen’s staff is crucial to providing a welcoming, professional environment for clients. “I always try to maintain a knowledgeable and sympathetic staff. I usually have three working with me, and anyone in my office has to be bilingual. It is vital that our clients can understand and communicate with us.”
As Nguyen is approaching her 10th year as a solo practitioner, she reflected, “The decision to go out on my own is the best I’ve ever made. I think anyone can do it, no matter their race or sex. I grew up in a town of 500 people. I literally knew no one here and had no connections when I started my career, but I made friends on the way who helped me. I’ve had great mentors, from professors, lawyers and a judge whom I’ve worked for. Having those kinds of people to help with your career is really important.”
When it comes to the business aspect of practicing law, she advises, “Get experience like I did before you open your own practice, know your strengths and build a practice accordingly. In the beginning, choose your cases wisely. Although it may be tempting, don’t take every case that comes through your door. Take those that you know you have the greatest chance of winning. When you do well, people will tell others, and those referrals will become the basis for your practice. Once you’re established and gained experience, you can take greater risks.”
There is a lesson in Nguyen’s story, that she began her journey as a girl born in a Vietnamese village, her family separated after the Vietnam war, lived in a town of 500 people and is today a leading attorney in the cosmopolitan city of Saint Paul-Minneapolis. Nguyen is a paragon of the American Dream, a reminder that we are a nation of immigrants, blessed with inalienable rights that make that Dream possible.