The focus of much discussion, heated debates, and of late, disturbing headlines, immigration isn’t just a topical subject, but very personal to Aria Nejad. Founder and managing partner of ADN Law Group, Nejad isn’t some Johnny-come- lately, jumping on the bandwagon at a time when millions of refugees and immigrants anxiously await the next sweeping decision from Washington. He has made this area of law his life’s work. His reasons are many, but ultimately, Nejad says, he derives “tremendous satisfaction from helping individuals and families with so much at stake.”
Something of an expert on the subject, Nejad was an immigrant to this country. Born in Teflon, Iran, he arrived in Salt Lake City at the age of 3, when his family was forced to flee their homeland.
“There was a lot of uncertainty in Iran in 1979 during the revolution,” he says. “People were starting to leave, but my parents both had great careers and my older sister had just been born, so they decided to take a wait-and-see approach. But after the revolution, Iran and Iraq went to war and the climate became progressively more unstable. In fact, just a couple of miles from our home, an entire neighborhood was decimated by the Iraqis. At that point, my parents felt they just didn’t have a choice; it was becoming a real safety issue and they knew they had to leave.”
The hardships his parents endured to protect their family extended far beyond leaving everything and everyone familiar behind. Prior to the revolution, Nejad’s father held an important post with the American Embassy, and transferred to the Indonesian Embassy following the war. His mother was an executive with an airline. All this vanished in their effort to seek sanctuary.
“When we arrived here my parents worked as custodians cleaning office buildings at night,” Nejad recalls. “They just had to take whatever jobs they could to support the family. I remember my siblings and I would go with them and try to amuse ourselves while they mopped floors and polished desks.”
Parental Pressure and Altruistic Ambition
As they settled in to their new lives, Nejad says his parents were both adamant and vocal about their expectations for their children. High on the list was education.
“I think it’s true of most immigrant families,” he says. “Education becomes priority number one as far as the parents are concerned. That can be a little stressful on the kid. I remember from a pretty early age, they made it clear that going to college was not an option but an expectation.”
While he may have felt the pressure, this wasn’t a problem for Nejad who discovered a role model at young age and aspired to emulate him.
“It was the immigration attorney who helped our family get settled here,” he says. “I really admired him and his work, but hadn’t really considered it much more than a dream. In high school, however, I decided that this was something I could realistically achieve.”
After graduating with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science in economics from the University of Utah, Nejad worked in finance for a couple of years.
“It wasn’t a great fit or the ideal time (2008) to be entering the world of finance,” he says. “I think it’s a good testament to the idea that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not and you should go with your gut. So, I took the LSAT and applied to law school, which had always been my dream anyway.”
In 2013, he earned a Juris Doctor from the S.J. Quinney College of Law. “One of the great aspects of this school is there are many pro bono opportunities to pursue,” he says. “Early on, I had taken a couple of immigration cases, both of which involved asylum seekers.
“One woman was from Nigeria, dealing with truly horrific circumstances at home,” he elaborates, “and a gentleman from Afghanistan, dealing with severe persecution. These cases really drove home just how important immigration work is and how much satisfaction I derived from it. I remember thinking, ’Wow, these are actual people who I can look in the face, knowing that I had a positive impact, making their lives better.”
Advocate and Adviser
There’s a certain poetic symmetry to Nejad’s journey. Thanks to the bravery and conviction of his parents, he and his siblings escaped a terrible situation that was certainly destined to worsen. Today, his passion is helping others achieve the same. “It’s definitely a way for me to give back,” he says.
Always closely scrutinized and debated, in the recent political atmosphere immigration has become an explosive topic.
“Immigration is a very political issue,” says Nejad. “With every new administration, there are inevitable changes. As an immigration lawyer, you just have to stay on top of your game. However, the speed of change with this administration has been disturbing. One day the world operates one way and the next it’s completely different. It’s a little unsettling.
“It’s human nature to seek certainty,” he continues. “Right now, I have so many clients calling me, truly fearful and extremely anxious about a very unpredictable future.”
For Nejad, this uncertainty hits close to home. “I have an uncle in Iran who was planning on visiting, but he can’t now, or at least he doesn’t feel comfortable.”
However, Nejad is heartened by the support evidenced within the legal community. “It’s nice to see there is a community of lawyers who are willing to step up and be the voice of reason in response to perceived injustice.
“It’s also nice having people like lawyers for a change,” he quips with a grin.