The Bond Fund is asking advocates, donors, and others, “Why do you care about immigrants?” In this interview we speak with Tanisha Bowens, attorney at CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Until recently, Tanisha volunteered on the Bond Fund Steering Committee. We appreciate her work on behalf of our project!
Bond Fund: Did you know what you wanted to do after law school?
Tanisha: Yes, I looked for internships and classes to learn immigration law. I had a plan to look for work as an immigration lawyer at a nonprofit in Miami. After I graduated, I worked at Catholic Charities and then the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Bond Fund: Why were you interested in immigration law?
Tanisha: It dates back to a trip I took in college. A good friend was invited to speak at a conference in Canada. She invited me to take the road trip with her, go to the conference, and stay with a local family. Neither of us had much experience with travel – though she was here as a student from West Africa. At the Florida airport, everything was fine. When we changed planes in Houston, everything seemed OK, but I saw the airline staff keep something from my friend’s passport and staple it to the part of the ticket the airline keeps. My friend did not seem to notice or care, so I didn’t give it much weight at the time.
After four days at the conference we rushed back to the airport to catch our flight. But my friend was stopped at the gate, and ordered to go to another room to meet with an immigration agent. The airlines personnel told me I could go ahead, but how could I leave my friend alone? She looked so defeated. She was quiet and startled as the immigration agent asked her about her passport and documents. I was the one arguing with them, until the agent basically told me to shut up. The agents were mean-spirited, and told my friend, “You are lucky we don’t arrest you.”
We were not sure what to do next. We were so young, and of course we didn’t have any money or family with us to help. So we called our host family in Canada. The next day, my friend and I returned to the airport with our tall, white, male Canadian host. He persuaded the agents to check with the airline in Houston for the passport document I saw the flight attendant misplace. The immigration agents wouldn’t listen to me, but they listened to him. We were able to confirm my friend’s lawful status as a student in the US, and re-book our flight home.