Immigration law appealed to me because it deals with the human story—and all the work you’re doing is direct service work.”
Legal Clerk, Boston Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Department of Justice
Diana Vogel knew early on that she wanted to work face-to-face with people in need, "but if someone had said to me back then, 'You're going to become a lawyer,' I wouldn't have believed them," she says. Fast-forward to today: as a law clerk in the Boston Immigration Court, she writes decisions for judges on complex asylum, torture, and deportation cases. In retrospect, her path to immigration law started in childhood. She grew up in Jamaica Plain in Boston alongside Central American and Caribbean neighbors: "I never really understood anti-immigration sentiment because the community was so enriched by the different cultures," she recalls. Her father ran a Boston nonprofit that built affordable housing, and her mother, an acupuncturist, treated AIDS patients.
At Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, she tutored farmworkers and started moving toward a career in bilingual education. During a semester of study in Morelia, Mexico, "I learned what was comfortable with me in that culture and confronted uncomfortable moments to learn from them." After getting a BA in political science, she volunteered at the nonprofit WorldTeach and taught advanced English in Quito, Ecuador.
Her "life epiphany" occurred there when she helped two Ecuadorian sisters with the complicated visa paperwork required to visit their sister in the United States. "As I started translating the forms and doing research, I read a couple of amazing books that opened my eyes to immigration policy in the U.S. That's when I became really interested in immigration law. It appealed to me because it deals with the human story-and all the work you're doing is direct service work."
At VLS under the tutelage of South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC) immigration attorney Arthur Edersheim, she landed summer stints as a law clerk in the Miami, Florida, Immigration Court; in the U.S. District Court in Boston; and at the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, a nonprofit. In addition to helping two middle-school children avoid deportation through the Vermont Immigrant Assistance Project, she walked a teenage girl through a tough custody arrangement in the Children First! Legal Advocacy Project. She continued to represent the girl afterward on a pro bono basis: "Every week I checked in with her by phone, and was reminded that there's a real world out there and a reason to be suffering through finals." For her SRLC work, she won the Law Student Ethics Award from the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
After graduating, she was hired through the U.S. Attorney General's Honors Program and was assigned to the Boston Immigration Court as a legal clerk. Working for six immigration judges, she conducts research, writes decisions, and oversees the court's intern program. "I'm getting a firsthand view of how the laws are administered," she says." The saddest cases, she says, involve young children separated from their parents; eye-opening ones involve criminals. "Now I have a realistic and practical sense of how immigration laws play out in this country, and that immigration law is far from black or white," she says.
She lives again in Jamaica Plain with her boyfriend, Robert Arnell '10, and skis, hikes, plays with her puppy, and roots for the Red Sox in her spare time. After her time in the immigration court, she'll be seeking work in a nonprofit representing clients facing deportation. "I love the direct service work-that's the most personally rewarding and fun for me," she says. "You see an interesting and unique side of the human condition. You witness firsthand the courage that people have to come to a new country and start a new life -and the minute someone gets a green card and hugs you, well...that's an amazing experience."