Get an immigration attorney. This is not self-promotion, it’s the truth. You don’t have to hire me — but make sure it’s someone you can trust and someone who works hard. Immigration law can be complicated, and sometimes you don’t get a second chance to file a petition. You need to understand the strengths and liabilities of your petition, and you need to put the best case forward you can, the first time.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aga Asbury. She came to the United States from Poland and navigated U.S. immigration as an exchange student, then as an international student, then as a green card petitioner. She became a U.S. citizen in 2015. When Aga completed law school in 2013, she knew she wanted to help other people navigate the U.S. immigration process. She is now a Senior Attorney at FordMurray Law, a national immigration law firm based in Portland, Maine.
“I know firsthand how vulnerable you can feel when you have to deal with different languages and cultures amidst the governmental bureaucracy,” she said. “I understand the challenges of starting a new life in another country and the importance of being assisted by a professional that cares.”
Aga sees her work as a natural extension of her own immigrant experience and takes pride in protecting the rights of immigrants as they look to live, work, and create a life in the United States.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Warsaw, Poland and had a pretty boring childhood. I am the youngest daughter of a normal, middle class family, with two supportive parents and an older sister. My sister is five years older than me, but we had lots of cousins who lived nearby and I grew up playing in the mud and running around in a pack of kids. I was a very good student, and from an early age I read my sister’s books when she completed them. By the time I got to high school, I had read every book that was on the reading list. I went to a high school that focused on arts and humanities and was accepted to law school after high school — in Poland, law school is five years and incorporates the undergraduate degree. Polish law is different than American law, based on a statutes rather than precedents. As a child, I wanted to be a sniper, a jet fighter, a brain surgeon, or a lawyer. Had I stayed in Poland I would have been a prosecutor.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
I came to the U.S. for the first time on a bet. After my first year of law school, a friend had just come back from a US work and travel program in Boston. She loved it. As she was telling us stories about all the fun she had working and playing in Boston, I told her I was going to do it, too — she bet me 50 dollars I wouldn’t be able to leave Poland. I went to Boston the following summer through the same program and worked as a maid at the Ritz Carlton hotel. By the time I my temporary visa expired, the Ritz Carlton offered me a permanent position and offered to sponsor a green card to the United States. At the same time, my American boyfriend proposed, hoping I would stay on a marriage green card. While I returned to Poland to finish my final three years of law school, I returned to the U.S. after graduation to spend more time with my boyfriend and figure out if the United States was the right place for me.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
When I came to the United States the second time, I came as an au pair on a J-1 visa. I had maintained a three-year, long distance relationship with my American boyfriend and his proposal still stood, but I wanted to spend time together under more normal circumstances. Our relationship didn’t last, but I fell in the love with the United States. I still wanted to be an attorney, and that meant starting over again. I enrolled in paralegal studies at Quincy College, where I graduated on the Dean’s List with High Honors. I also fell in love, got married, and moved to Maine to start my journey toward becoming an immigration attorney.
Coming from Poland, the culture shock was never immense, but there are definitely some big differences between Poland and the United States. It took me a long time to get used to how friendly everyone is in the U.S. — Polish society is way more conservative. I will never forget waiting for the T in Boston, and a woman just started talking to me about the weather. I thought she was crazy and wondered if I should be worried. When my mom came to visit and we were walking the dog, she marveled at how everyone said hi and how are you. After 15 minutes, she asked, “How could you possibly know all these people?”
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
During my first visit to the United States, I really relied on my best friend and roommate Ola Binkowska. We were two Polish girls away from home for the first time — we worked hard and played hard. I also got my first sense of how to be both Polish and American — we shared a house with four other people — all Polish immigrants — in the Polish triangle in Boston. I was getting Americanized every day, but I didn’t miss Poland because I had my Polish community. It was a supportive environment — it wasn’t sink or swim. I carry that with me with today — when I first moved to the Portland, I was at the grocery store and a woman heard me speaking in Polish to my visiting Polish friend. She invited me to a baby shower the following weekend with primarily Polish women. These women have become my bedrock and supported me through good times and bad — graduation from law school, divorce, starting my own law firm and eventually joining FordMurray. We get together as much as we can, and always around the holidays to make a traditional pierogi feast.
So how are things going today?
Things are going great! I am a Senior Attorney at FordMurray, a national immigration law firm in Portland, Maine. My practice focuses on family immigration and helping foreign entrepreneurs start businesses in the United States. There is no greater reward than helping people navigate the same processes I have navigated, and giving them peace of mind during a stressful, high stakes time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have used my success to help other immigrants and foreign nationals live and work in the United States. I know how I felt with every success — getting my first green card, becoming a U.S. citizen, voting for the first time — but I also understand the stress and uncertainty that can accompany gathering evidence, filing petitions, and interviewing with USCIS. I think of my clients like family and friends, and I want to see them enjoy the success I have experienced in the United States.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Get rid of backlogs for employment based and family based green cards. For example, if a U.S. citizen would like to sponsor a parent for a green card, there is no wait time for them as immediate family members. But if you have a little brother or sister, the sibling cannot be added to the parents’ visa petition, and the wait time for siblings is around 14 years. It’s ridiculous.
- Shorter processing times for petitions filed with USCIS — in New York it can take up to two years for marriage-based Adjustment of Status cases. This might involve adding more staff, but it is a necessary step and will catch the U.S. up with the rest of the world.
- Immigration reform — we need to give undocumented or out of status immigrants — many of whom are already paying taxes — a path to green cards and citizenship. We can’t just ignore them — we have to do something about it.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Nothing comes for free and it tastes better once it is earned. I was working as an immigration paralegal when I went to law school. I would wake up at 7 a.m. and go to bed at 1 a.m. — it seemed impossible at times. Every time I help a client file a successful petition, I think about how my hard work is part of someone else’s American Dream.
- Never give up. You can fall, but get up and keep moving. After my divorce, it was so hard to be away from family; parents tried to convince me to go back to Poland. I see clients every day struggle with any range of issues. Don’t let a bad day or a bad experience define you. This is your story.
- Get an immigration attorney. This is not self-promotion, it’s the truth. You don’t have to hire me — but make sure it’s someone you can trust and someone who works hard. Immigration law can be complicated, and sometimes you don’t get a second chance to file a petition. You need to understand the strengths and liabilities of your petition, and you need to put the best case forward you can, the first time.
- Love what you do. I get an immense amount of satisfaction through my work — learning people’s stories, helping collect the right evidence for petitions, preparing people for interviews, and ultimately, sharing in their joy. I don’t think my success would be possible if I didn’t love helping people.
- Surround yourself with people who support you. I am very lucky to have my family and Polish community behind me, but I also chose to join a law firm that has a firm “no jerk” policy and supports its employees. Your community, your friends, your employers, should lift you up — then it’s up to you to reach your full potential.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- I am optimistic about the improved tone and tenor toward immigrants of new administration. Even a change as simple as changing “illegal aliens” to “noncitizens” is an important step to realizing that all immigration is a human issue.
- I am optimistic about the openness and friendliness of the United States. We are coming out of a period of sustained partisanship and we have a lot of work to do, but I believe America has a culture of inclusiveness we can continue to grow and foster.
- There is still a lot of opportunity for people who work hard and want to succeed. I see that with myself and I see that with my clients — I am thinking about a couple who opened a Thai restaurant in a small town in Downeast Maine, and despite the pandemic they have opened another restaurant and are looking toward future expansion, an Australian education entrepreneur who opened an international business college in California, and an English gamekeeper who brought his love of game birds and traditional English bird hunting to start a flourishing business in Virginia.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Elon Musk is a fellow immigrant. Even though he is as wealthy and successful as anyone can imagine, he is never satisfied and always reaches for more.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I blog extensively at www.fordmurraylaw.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!