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Barbara Erlandson

Majors at CSB: Management and Spanish
Year of Graduation: 1987
Graduate school:  JD, William Mitchell College of Law, 1999
Current Job: Immigration Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Other college activities: Study abroad program to Madrid, Spain

Tell us about your work.
I work with individuals and families from around the world who are seeking temporary and permanent status in the United States. This includes helping people apply for a variety of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas including visitor visas, temporary protected status, fiance(e) petitions, applications for permanent residence (green cards) through spouses, parents, and children, and applications for U.S. Citizenship. I also help individuals who are seeking relief from deportation. 

Immigration law involves filing papers with and appearing at interviews at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, attending hearings at the Immigration Court, filing petitions at U.S. Consulates around the world and in some cases, filing appeals with various courts of appeals. 

What are the biggest issues/concerns that are part of your work?
Immigration law is an ever changing area of law so it is critical to stay apprised of the constant changes that occur. Recently, the debate over comprehensive immigration reform has been a major concern. When there are negative changes to the immigration laws, the direct impact on families can be devastating. Similarly, when positive changes occur, the impact on individuals and families can be life-changing.

Another critical part of the work of an immigration attorney is listening carefully and asking thoughtful, probing questions to gather necessary information before working on a case. It is essential to earn the trust of the client to ensure s/he provides all of the necessary details to move forward with a case and achieve a successful result.

How did you end up doing what you are doing?

After graduating from Saint Ben's in 1987, I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica for two years.  I moved to Washington, D.C. after completing my Peace Corps service and worked at the Peace Corps headquarters office for five years. While working in Washington, DC, I started investigating graduate degree options including an MBA, a degree in international development and law school. 

After a lot of research and self-reflection, I chose to pursue a law degree to work in a profession where I could continue to work with people from other countries, speak Spanish, and make a positive impact in people's lives. I returned to Minnesota in 1996 to pursue my law degree and I have been practicing immigration law since graduating from William Mitchell College of Law in 1999. 

Were there aspects of your CSB education or extra-curricular experiences that helped you in your later achievements?

Two key aspects of my CSB education that helped me in my profession as an immigration attorney were getting a double major in Management and Spanish and participating in a study abroad program.

The study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain, not only helped my language skills but it also opened my eyes to the world. Studying and living in Spain and traveling through Europe provided a great opportunity to learn another  language and learn about other cultures. The study abroad program also allowed me to apply what I had learned in the Spanish classes at CSB to the real world. The first few months in Spain were a humbling experience. I realized that speaking Spanish and conversing with people was a very different experience from reading and writing Spanish.  Fortunately, after a few months in Madrid, I put the two together and was able to communicate with people.  The CSB program was also organized so that we could not only learn the language, but also travel and see a lot of the country. 

I stayed an extra semester in Madrid so I could further hone my Spanish language skills.  Thanks to CSB, I was able to transfer my credits so I could obtain a B.A. in Spanish in addition my B.A. degree in Management.

What is exciting or rewarding to you in your work?

It is very rewarding to help individuals navigate the often complex and intimidating immigration system. It's exciting to help people achieve their dream of living and working in the United States. One of the most enjoyable aspects of practicing immigration law is working with individuals from around the world.  It's gratifying to bridge language and cultural barriers and directly impact people's lives by helping them legalize their status in the United States.          

Does the public typically misunderstand your work?  How?  What effect does this have?

I believe the public misunderstands the topic of immigration in general because there is a lot of misinformation circulated about current immigration laws and about immigrants in general. For example, people often erroneously believe that the law has changed when in fact Congress is merely debating proposed legislation. Moreover, people often misunderstand how easy or difficult it is for an individual to immigrate to the US and why people choose to come to the U.S.  The effect is that it can take a lot of time to dispel rumors and clarify misinformation.

The immigration debate has become very heated in recent years and especially in recent months. A positive impact of immigration being in the news is that people get involved in advocating for positive immigration reform.  However, the US immigration system needs to be updated to address the needs of the current immigrants, including the huge undocumented population that is living and working here.

Do you have any advice for current students who might be interested in your work - or just general advice to all students?

I recommend the study abroad program to any student and especially a student interested in working overseas or working in the immigration field. The experience of living in another country, learning another language, and assimilating into a new culture is something I recommend to anyone but especially someone interested in practicing immigration law or working in any international field.

Working as a Peace Corps Volunteer after college was also a life-changing experience that I would highly recommend. The CSB study abroad program together with the Peace Corps experience changed my life. They both impacted the way I live and view the world from the music I listen to, the foods I eat, the social activities I engage in, and the friendships and professional relationships I have formed since college.