Go Do Something About It with Tahmina Watson of the Tahmina Talks Immigration Podcast


Today is a CausePod first, where we talk about immigration law and how it affects so many people within our country and those trying to get legally.

Immigration can be a hot topic to talk about in today’s fast-moving news cycle, but at the core of these stories are real people trying to find a better life.  Tahmina works to create change through her podcast and books to advocate for better policy to support a better way.  As an immigrant from the UK herself, she knows the struggle and has found a passion for this type of law. 

Key Topics:
  • How did you Tahmina get started with Immigration Law (1:27)
  • What are the significant challenges within Immigration Law today (4:30 )
  • What made adding a podcast the right move to help your practice (11:26)
  • Finding your audience (14:58)
  • Lessons learned for others looking to start a CausePod (16:47)
  • What makes WIDEN a new approach to support immigration law (21:16)
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00:00:02.350 – Speaker 1
Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues. Please visit us at CausePods.org where you can learn about our guests, show their favorite charitable cause. Join our Facebook group of resources for CausePods podcasters and find a link where you yourself could be a guest here on CausePods.

00:00:33.970 – Speaker 1
Again, that’s all at CausePods.org.

00:00:40.180 – Speaker 2
All right, folks, going to take you out to Seattle, Washington, we are joined by Tahmina Watson. She is the host and creator of Tahmeena Talks Immigration. She’s the founder of Watson Immigration Law. It’s a Seattle based law firm with immigration attorneys practicing exclusively here in the United States on immigration naturalization law. So you can imagine what our topic is going to be today. But, Samina, thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods Mathew.

00:01:06.790 – Speaker 3
I’m so grateful and honored to have the opportunity to speak with you.

00:01:10.360 – Speaker 2
Oh, and it is our pleasure. This is certainly a topic we have not covered in the past on the show. So I’m excited to dove right into this. But I guess, first off, what got you interested in wanting to work on immigration and naturalization cases as a lawyer? Like, did you know you wanted to be a lawyer and then you chose this? Or was immigration a passion project? And so you pursued the law in order to have a more powerful set of tools to work on this cause?

00:01:38.380 – Speaker 2
That’s a really good question. I always wanted to be a lawyer. That’s all I cared about from the moment I could actually remember. But I wanted to do that in the UK where I was born and raised and life brought me to the United States. I met an amazing guy and I fell in love. And I eventually got married and moved here and now have kids. But when I moved here, I had to figure out how to be a lawyer again.

00:02:03.820 – Speaker 2
You know, while you’re a lawyer, like many other professions, if you move countries, you’ve got to become a professional lawyer all over again. So I was living in Washington State where I still live, but I had a UK degree. And if Washington would allow me to be a lawyer again, I’d have to go to law school and I wasn’t going to go to law school anymore. And so I realized I could take the New York bar exam.

00:02:29.470 – Speaker 2
So I took the New York bar exam. In this country, if you are practicing law, you must be licensed in that state. And so with a license of New York living in Washington, I kind of got limited in what I could practice. And so immigration is a federal area of law, meaning that you could practice immigration law anywhere in the country with whatever license you have. And so that’s what I ended up doing. But immigration wasn’t the one thing I didn’t want to practice of all the areas of law.

00:03:00.340 – Speaker 2
I didn’t want to do immigration because I thought it was going to be heartbreaking every day doing asylum law every day. And I just didn’t know the depth and the breadth of the area. But I fell into it because I didn’t have a lot of choices at the time. The third time it landed on my lap, I thought, you know, I should just do this and see what happens. And that’s when I realized, oh, my gosh, I was made to practice immigration law.

00:03:26.440 – Speaker 2
I had just gone through the U.S. immigration system to get my own green card and live here and get, you know, eventually got citizenship. I had seen immigration up close and personally in the UK where I lived, my parents were immigrants to the UK. So I you know, I grew up in a culturally diverse community and I speak the languages and I lived in different countries. So all together it was a very good personal fit. And from a legal perspective, it was a it’s a very interesting, challenging, fast moving area.

00:03:58.660 – Speaker 2
And you’re making an impact on people’s lives immediately. You know, I could be working with CEOs of companies to a battered spouse immediately. And all of those things means I can see the impact in real time as opposed to keep pushing paper and not necessarily seeing the end of the transaction.

00:04:19.510 – Speaker 2
I imagine because you married an American that you’re getting a Visa green card experience was much different and probably more seamless than some of the clients you work with. But what are some of the big issues, big challenges that you deal with on a regular basis with immigration law here in the States?

00:04:41.440 – Speaker 3
That’s a really good question. And yes, I compare to all the other all the paths that exist to get a green card and citizenship. Getting married to a U.S. citizen is generally the simpler option as long as it’s a real, true relationship. Otherwise, I mean, don’t do it. And so, yes, I did go through that process, but it doesn’t come with it. So, you know, it comes with its own challenges. And so, for example, at the time I couldn’t travel.

00:05:09.160 – Speaker 3
It took a long time to get the green card, not as long as it does these days. And you’ve got to really open up your entire life and, you know, personal information. And so it has its own challenges. But it’s a very fair thing for the government to ask when they’re verifying whether this is a real relationship or not.

00:05:27.160 – Speaker 2
When you said you couldn’t travel, do you mean within the states like you can fly or just like you couldn’t go overseas and go visit home and things like that?

00:05:36.460 – Speaker 3
Really good question. Thanks for picking that up. You know, when you actually. For a green card in the U.S., depending on the type of status you had before filing. While that is pending, you leave the country, that form is considered abandoned. And so you have to get permission before you can leave. And that permission generally takes four to six months until covid is taking significantly longer. And so during that period, one cannot leave the country you can travel within.

00:06:07.940 – Speaker 3
But the type of people I see, you know, we have to go through visa soup to assess whether that person is eligible for any of the visas. Now, your listeners may or may not know there’s sort of an alphabet of visas. They’re all a letter followed by numbers. So A one, B to C, C one. And one of the visa numbers people might know of is an H-1B. People might know about an age two. So this is always a letter followed by a number.

00:06:39.910 – Speaker 3
And then but they all signify different things. You know, the merit of the case could be, are you being sponsored by an employer like an H-1B or are you being sponsored by a U.S. citizen like a K one like a fiancee visa? People might know the show 90 days beyond, say, is based upon, you know, somebody getting sponsored by a U.S. citizen with the promise of getting married. So the first thing I have to do is really assess what kind of visa or visa might be suitable.

00:07:09.160 – Speaker 3
And you make a short list and then you narrow it down. But then it’s a matter of figuring out, you know, can they even do this? And so there’s a lot of sort of you can’t get past go in a Monopoly game until you’ve made that assessment. And once you can get past go, then there are a whole different types of challenges with that. Do you have the right paperwork for it? If you do? Now, we filed we filed a case with the government.

00:07:34.720 – Speaker 3
Now, the challenge is particularly under covid. How long is it going to take? Which part of the world are you living in? Even if your case is approved? Can you get a visa? Is the embassy open now under covid? There have been some interesting, unprecedented challenges. We’re coming out of a four year period where the immigration system was essentially broken down. It was already a broken system. They was broken down even further. But then nobody anticipated covid would really exacerbate that problem.

00:08:06.880 – Speaker 3
So while your listeners might be hearing about the news at the border, while people are not hearing about is how people on a day to day basis are being affected, people with work permits cannot get those permits because the system, the immigration system, USCIS, United States immigration services, that delayed offices are closed or slow in taking appointments these days. There’s an inherent backlog that has built up over the last 15 months and that has a real effect on people’s lives.

00:08:41.890 – Speaker 3
They can’t get their work permits. They can’t get their green cards. And if you think about people abroad, embassies are just closed. They have recently opened, but they’re only opening for emergency situations. But even if you can get an appointment, then you have to make an assessment. Is this country under a ban or not? In the last four years, there were different types of bans, visa specific bans. If you’re this Visa, that green card, you cannot come in.

00:09:09.730 – Speaker 3
But what happened in covid is now there are country bans. So if you’re from India, Europe, South Africa, Brazil, you actually cannot even get a visa. So there is just a myriad of challenges that we have to go through on a day to day basis of what’s happening to this client and where can they actually get a visa? Can they come in? But one of the things I think I would love your listeners to understand is that there is often a rhetoric of why are we helping the immigrant always an immigrant problem or, you know, it’s the rhetoric and the focus is on the immigrant.

00:09:44.620 – Speaker 3
But what people don’t understand is that you, as an American people in American companies are affected. So when an American company is applying for a visa for somebody or hiring somebody on a work permit, and they simply cannot get them to work, that American business is actually affected because they either have to keep that position open or they think they hired them in the first place because they know can’t find people to take those positions. And so those businesses are affected.

00:10:15.910 – Speaker 3
The American consumer is affected. So immigrant immigration is not just about the immigrant, it’s really about Americans. And that is not necessarily always understood.

00:10:27.250 – Speaker 2
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s fascinating that in all of this, right, we think about the border and, you know, what’s happening on the southern Texas and California and Arizona and really. There are immigration issues that happen everywhere in this country that people don’t even think about, and so it is an important issue and you’re right, it is a big part of our economy of keeping things going. We know how many small businesses and companies are started by folks who have immigrated into the United States.

00:10:59.240 – Speaker 2
And so it’s not just those who are running across the border. And, you know, we’re we’re scared into thinking they’re taking our jobs and they’re hurting. But there are people who are really coming here for opportunity and to help in a lot of different ways. And and they just run into bureaucratic and other roadblocks. And folks like you are the ones who help them get through it and help us have a better system, you know, where you’re able to.

00:11:24.440 – Speaker 2
So you’re doing this kind of work. And before we start to record your Song of the year on the radio, is that where the idea for a podcast was first born or did something else happen? When you decide to say, I’m going to start my own podcast, you know, it’s a really good question because I think it organically sort of came together. You know, I had a live radio show and as an immigration lawyer, I just wanted to practice immigration law.

00:11:51.560 – Speaker 2
And so it sort of fell into my lap and I realized I’m good at it. I’m good at really telling people how things are in a very simple way. And immigration is so complicated that you need somebody like me to explain it to you. And I was able to do that to the masses and it was just so wonderful. But when the station that I was telling you earlier, it was a South Asian station and I grew up in the UK, having a South Asian station was part and parcel of life.

00:12:21.530 – Speaker 2
I could wake up and listen to Bollywood music as well as listening, listen to the current news. And suddenly I was getting that here. But the station didn’t survive. It had to shut down. And so that’s when I realized I can continue to do what I’m doing. And what’s interesting is after the station closed down and I lost my weekly sort of rhythm, it wasn’t as easy to go to a studio and find the time and book it and find parking.

00:12:47.150 – Speaker 2
And I live in Seattle. Parking is always a nightmare. And so it wasn’t as regular, but covid allowed me to actually open up and do something, you know, more regularly because you and I are speaking on a laptop and some I don’t necessarily need to be in a studio. And so I have been regularly doing podcast episodes. I recorded a whole series last year and it was called Legal Heroes in the Trump era. It was about a lot of immigration lawyers and non immigration lawyers stepping up to the challenges that we had seen over the last four years.

00:13:20.660 – Speaker 2
And in twenty twenty one, I’ve got a new series called The Startup Visa. I didn’t get a chance to tell you this earlier, but I’ve written I’ve written two books. One is called Legal Heroes and the Trump Era, which was inspired by the podcast series. I didn’t really anticipate doing a book, but the podcast series sort of made me realize I need all of this in one spot. But what I’ve done that was my I’ve written a book.

00:13:44.420 – Speaker 2
It was in 2015 and now with a new administration, I’m advocating for changes for entrepreneurs to have a specific visa category. We don’t have one. So my book is coming out on July 20th. It’s called the Startup Visa. And it’s really, you know, for people who are in the finance world, who are investing in international entrepreneurs, often they can’t really invest in these people because you don’t know the certainty of their stay in the U.S. So a lot of investors, financiers, angels, accelerators, they want to invest in talent, innovate innovative people who are bringing those new ideas to the U.S. and they just don’t have a pathway.

00:14:26.330 – Speaker 2
So this visa category that I’m advocating for by the administration started something and people can read it. Oh, my. In my book and my my blog. But the new podcast series is to go with that. So the book comes out on July 20th and the podcast series is already recorded and it’s up there, you know, so it’s really my way of educating, informing, advocating.

00:14:50.990 – Speaker 2
Who would you say is your core audience for your content? And if it is folks who are immigrating to the United States or, you know, are not Native Americans? And that doesn’t sound like the word I’m trying to say, not Native Americans as Indians, but. Right. Folks who are not native to this country, like, how difficult is it to find your audience?

00:15:15.860 – Speaker 3
That’s a really good question. You know, my listeners are very often they all my clients and readers, I write a lot. You know, I have a bi weekly column in a local magazine called Above the Law. So I have a lot of lawyers who we listen to my book, my podcast. But often lawmakers and policymakers do as well. But definitely advocates for change in. The immigration space, so it’s very it’s a very crowd and because I cover varied immigration topics, so I don’t necessarily cover what’s happening at the border, I don’t necessarily talk about asylum day in, day out.

00:15:52.490 – Speaker 3
I talk about the things that matter to my clients and to change immigration, immigration reform. Part of what I love to do is inspire people. You know, there are a lot of people who, particularly in the last four years, wanted to do something to make their communities better, help, you know, individuals with whatever problems were coming their way. And you probably get to hear about that with your podcast, Mathew and CausePods, of course.

00:16:19.610 – Speaker 3
And what happens in these situations, people often are looking for ways to help and they don’t have time to create something new or figure out the idea that they have. But if you can create a pathway for them, they will use their spare time, whether it’s five minutes or five hours in that. And so, you know, part of the previous series was really to inspire people. You are worried about something, go do something about it, you know, because you were doing radio before this, because you had a little bit a sense of media savvy.

00:16:49.940 – Speaker 3
What were, if any, unique challenges to creating the podcast itself that you ran into or maybe just in general any lessons that you’ve learned from doing this that you can share with other caused based podcast creators or aspiring CausePods?

00:17:06.080 – Speaker 3
Yeah, that’s a really good question. You know, it took me a while to sort of figure out what to do because I would just turn up at my designated time at this beautiful studio with a wonderful producer who say five, four, three, two, one. And I’d start talking and then he’d just, you know, do this and that cutting. You know, your time is up. And I would be done, you know, and I’d walk out of there and they’d send me a lovely MP3 that I just save.

00:17:33.790 – Speaker 3
I felt I was spoiled without really realizing I was spoiled because I could do my lawyering stuff on air. But once the stations shut down, I really had to figure out where do I go? What equipment do I use? How do I even talk to my guests? Because a lot of the guests would actually come in person to the studio. And so initially it was almost paralyzing. Where are studios? It’s just so expensive to even book a, you know, split space.

00:18:05.980 – Speaker 3
How do I fit into my schedule given their schedule? Because I had 10 o’clock Tuesday mornings blocked out of my office every week for two and something years. Suddenly I have to go watch three p.m. on a Wednesday. I don’t know if I can do it. So there was a scheduling issue for a busy lawyer, you know, combining it with those busy, you know, studio. And then once I did that a few times, I thought, you know, I’m not sure if the cost benefit is there.

00:18:30.940 – Speaker 3
And so then I sort of took some time thinking, what do I do? But then covid began when covid began, I started to speak to people, you know, just doing regular meetings on Zoome. And I thought I could record this and put it on my podcast. Thinking of that, I started to do that. And I, you know, I have a headphone and but then what happened during that period is that series led to a book.

00:18:53.680 – Speaker 3
And as I finished the book and I was going to record it, I had these amazing sound people help me. And they said, this is not working for your audio book. So I had to look around my house and find a small space and I found a closet that my kids were not using. It was their toys that they thought they wanted to use, but really it would be piled up and nobody would open the door. So I started to put blankets around there and started to record my book and I finished recording the book that way.

00:19:24.430 – Speaker 3
So legal heroes in the Trump era was recorded in the closet with blankets over my head and it was done really well. But what happened was my husband took pity on me and we cleared out everything in that room and he spent many weekends putting foam up. So now I have this beautiful little studio in my house where I recorded the second series. But the challenges that I faced was who’s going to do the editing? How quickly do I do it?

00:19:52.780 – Speaker 3
Do I move from SoundCloud to somewhere else? Why now? I’m on bus sprout so I can track things a little bit better. I’m lucky to have you know, the universe has sent me some amazing people in my life. And so some my my paralegal at my office is, you know, she’s a theater buff and she actually does theater. So she does does some recording and editing. And so I haven’t been able to find people in house to do it.

00:20:18.040 – Speaker 3
But for anybody who’s aspiring to do this, I’d say the biggest challenge is getting started. If you want to talk about something, just talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with having a Zune recording on, you know, wherever you eventually host, you can refine as you go. But getting started often is where people get challenged. But once you get started, you figure things out. You’re like, oh, you know, I should get a better mic, you know, oh, I should, you know, find somebody to edit for me.

00:20:46.990 – Speaker 3
I don’t have the time getting started. It’s really the hardest part, in my opinion. And if you can get over that hump, you can slowly figure things out.

00:20:55.900 – Speaker 2
Could not agree with you further on that. That is just one hundred percent. If you have a passion for something you want to share with the world, start sharing it with the world. You can fix it later. You can get better later. But, you know, the longer you sit on the sidelines, the less you’re going to be able to learn. The the less you’re going to be able to improve. And, you know, by the time you do get started, you’ll have wasted all that time that you could have been learning from from the experience of it.

00:21:22.000 – Speaker 2
So as part of your appearance here, we are supporting the. So as part of your appearance here today, you’re supporting the Washington Immigrant Defense Network. Also looks like it’s referred to as Weyden. You can learn more. Why didn’t log you were a co-founder of this five. I want see three. Tell us what Weiden does and if we’re interested in getting involved, how we can help out.

00:21:43.210 – Speaker 3
Sure. So this is a nonprofit organization that came about in the last four years when a lot of people were being detained and they needed immigration lawyers. And so we have a new model of providing legal representation in detained immigration settings. Quite often, or more often than not, people who are detained immigrants in trials don’t have legal representation. That’s because there’s no right to counsel in immigration court. And so one of the things that people often think about is, well, why don’t they have pro bono attorneys, pro bono attorneys can’t really do as much work as one would want them to do, because ultimately people have people and they have bills to pay.

00:22:30.280 – Speaker 3
And so this new model came about when there was a demand. A surge in demand and we pay a stipend to experienced immigration lawyers who take on cases and they train and supervise non immigration lawyers who provide pro bono services in this situation. And listeners who are interested in immigration and follow immigration will probably see that. Just a couple of hours ago, the United States Supreme Court actually came out with a decision saying immigrants who have been deported, who actually come back to the U.S. with humanitarian reasons will remain in detention, in detention.

00:23:13.200 – Speaker 3
They will not be released. And so this just came down from the Supreme Court. And then in the last three weeks, the Biden administration actually announced a new program called Detain Dockets, meaning that they’re trying to change the way in which people who come from the border gets speedier trials. But it doesn’t necessarily take into account that there are one point three million people in detention centers waiting for their trials. So the demand is so high there aren’t enough immigration lawyers to do this work around the country.

00:23:47.480 – Speaker 3
The nonprofit that we have is only for Washington State due to covid. We’ve sort of have been a little slow because courts were closed, but things are going to be moving pretty soon again. But what we do have is a model that doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. And it would be good for people to know about us and see what can be done around the country in due course. But we are very proud. We have four other co-founders.

00:24:12.440 – Speaker 3
Their names are Tuckahoe Almada, Erin Opening’s Mendez Thornwood and Jake Arrison. And we have some amazing volunteers who have provided pro bono assistance. And we have a handful of experienced immigration lawyers. And I want to give a shout out to an organization called Forward WCF, W.D. Dot US. They were one of our immediate supporters by giving us a grant of twenty five thousand dollars so we could get off the ground. And so we’re very proud of what we’ve done so far, but we’re relatively new and the need for us is coming again.

00:24:49.970 – Speaker 3
Very soon as these new detention center demands come up in the near future.

00:24:55.690 – Speaker 2
Sounds like some incredible work that you were doing. For anybody who’s interested in supporting what they are doing. It’s Weiden law dot org again. Why didn’t log? We’ll put a link to that in the show, notes Anak CausePods.org. Also, if you want to check out the podcast to Menagh Watson dot com, that’s t meana Watson dot com is how you find the website. We’ll also have links to that Apple, Google, Spotify. If you want to check out the Tahmeena Talks Immigration podcast as well as to me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

00:25:26.390 – Speaker 2
Thank you so much for what you are doing and for sharing your story here on CausePods.

00:25:31.310 – Speaker 3
Thank you so much, Mathew. Thank you for what you’re doing as well, highlighting various causes. And I’m honored I have the opportunity.

00:25:39.140 – Speaker 1
Thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org. There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here. In this episode, you will also find a CausePods.org Barletta subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.

00:26:15.740 – Speaker 1
And I can tell you right now we’ve got one great deal from our friends pod page, but you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast Consultive Dotcom.

00:26:41.480 – Speaker 1
Once again, if you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.

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