Salt Lake City attorney sees her own immigration story in her clients’ experiences

It’s been especially difficult helping clients navigate this uncertain time, and Linh Tran-Layton’s experience has made her reflect on her own journey to the U.S.

Linh Tran-Layton is an immigration attorney in Salt Lake City who advocates for people hoping to find their American dream. But since COVID-19 hit, many of those dreams have been put on hold.

Constant change is the new normal for Americans today, with COVID-19 causing even more upheaval to routines and schedules. Salt Lake City immigration attorney Linh Tran-Layton says those changes have impacted not only her work but the way she connects to her clients.

Linh Tran-Layton is an immigration attorney practicing in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy of Linh Tran-Layton)

She says the pandemic has been hard on a lot of her clients, but one particular case really sticks with her. 

“So this case was a case where a U.S. citizen spouse was petitioning for her husband to get a green card and her husband had entered undocumented,” she explained. “So there is a process that they have to go through where the husband eventually had to go back to Mexico, to the U.S. consulate.” 

The office view of Tran-Layton’s office in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she continues to see clients by abiding by CDC guidelines to help advise and guide along their immigration journey. (Photo by Megan Neff)

COVID-19 led to the shutdown of U.S. consulates across the globe, including in Mexico, leaving Tran-Layton’s client’s husband stranded in the country with a family back in the U.S. A process that typically takes two weeks turned into two months.  

“We really didn’t know when he was going to come back,” said Tran-Layton.

She adds that, as an immigrant herself, she can relate to the stress this is causing the couple because her family also faced the prospect of an uncertain future in their own journey to Salt Lake City. 

Tran-Layton’s family when they first came to the States in 1984. Tran-Layton, one years old, and her brother, Chau, with their mother Phuong and father Phong for one of their first photos on U.S. soil. (Photo Courtesy of Linh Tran-Layton)
Linh Tran-Layton around 6 months old, right before her family left Vietnam for the United States. (Photo Courtesy of Linh Tran-Layton)

As a 1-year old, Tran-Layton and her family came to the U.S. as refugees from Vietnam shortly after the Vietnam War. 

“My parents didn’t know English, had one hundred dollars, their clothes and my brother and I,” she said.

Tran-Layton says her family’s experience is a reminder to her that immigration law is more than just a set of rules. 

“There’s very much a human element to it.” 

Linh Tran-Layton
Approximately four years later after immigrating to the U.S, Linh and her family pose for a photo in the late 80’s. (Photo Courtesy of Linh Tran-Layton)

She sees the sacrifices her parents made in many of her clients. The many hardships her parents endured created a stricter environment for herself and her brother. Succeeding in school and working hard were always the top priorities in Tran-Layton’s family. 

“They would never let me sleep over at friends’ houses,” she said. “They would always say, ‘don’t have a boyfriend until you’re done with school.’

“They felt like getting an education was the key to success.”

Tran-Layton has been working for decades to achieve what her parents had sacrificed to give her: the American dream. She recalls her parents’ support during her pursuit of her law degree. 

Linh Tran-Layton is a graduate from the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.  After graduating in 2009, Tran-Layton says she has practiced immigration ever since. Next to the gavel is a gift of a jade horse statue. (Photo by Megan Neff)

“I know that my parents are very proud of us because even though they came from, really, nothing and did not have any formal education really at all,” she said. “Their kids were at least able to achieve things that they had only wished for.”  

Tran-Layton believes that there are more things she can continue to accomplish. Today she is more committed than ever to helping individuals find their way through the complexities of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, especially in the midst of COVID-19.

She fears the coronavirus pandemic has brought changes to immigration that the U.S., those emigrating here, and those helping immigrants navigate the process will feel for generations to come. One of these policy changes refers to refugee admissions; this policy was how Tran-Layton’s family came to the U.S. The White House has temporarily suspended refugee admissions to the U.S., which, for her, hits close to home.

“That could have been my family, and people who are like my family may never be able to come here,” she said.

For now, she’s hopeful that current events will improve and that families will soon be able to experience the same opportunities she has. 

By Megan Neff

Megan is finishing up her last semester at Salt Lake Community College with a major in communications. She will continue her education at the University of Utah and major in journalism. In the summer of 2019, Megan began writing for Salt Lake Community College’s student newspaper, The Globe, and then became the Globe’s digital engagement editor. In addition to working for the newspaper, Megan is an administrative assistant for an immigration law firm in downtown Salt Lake City. Outside of her professional obligations, she is an attentive rabbit mom, loves trying new foods, and is always looking for new travel destinations.