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Immigration attorney is fascinated by foreign cultures

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Spending two years in Los Angeles after college, Michael Folkmier made friends in the Peruvian community. Some had become permanent residents or citizens while others were still in immigration limbo. They had all been through—or were in the midst of— a complicated and stressful process.

“Many had made difficult choices in order to stay in the U.S., whether being separated from their families or postponing educational and professional opportunities or even avoiding travel within the U.S.,” Folkmier says.

Driving through L.A. one day, a sign for an immigration lawyer caught his eye.

“It was a light bulb moment,” he says. “I realized I could build a career working with people like these Peruvians and in an area of the law about which I cared deeply. I started studying for the LSAT almost immediately.”

Folkmier went on to graduate from Duke University School of Law in 2013 with both a J.D. and an LL.M. in International and Comparative Law, before joining the Immigration Law Offices of Antone, Casagrande, & Adwers in Farmington Hills, where his primary focus is on business immigration.

Folkmier, who enjoys the research and writing involved in his work, feels immigration is hugely positive for this country, benefiting the economy and enriching society.

“All my Peruvian friends in L.A. were contributing far more to this country than they were taking from it,” he says.

He gets a lot of satisfaction from helping businesses and individuals that are trying to navigate a complex immigration system.

“So many of them have fascinating stories and incredible credentials,” he says.

He particularly enjoys working on “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” cases for the cream of the crop in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. 

“Drafting a petition requires you to take an individual’s entire lifetime of work and use it to draft a compelling and persuasive narrative that meets a very high and very specific legal standard,” he explains. “It definitely leaves a lot of room for creative legal reasoning in a way that’s not possible with some of the more straightforward categories.”

Representing clients at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services interviews is also a highlight, when clients are approved on the spot. 

“These interviews are typically for Naturalization or Lawful Permanent Resident status and are often the culmination of a very long process, so when a case is approved right then and there, the excitement and sense of relief are huge,” he says. “Seeing the client react when they find out they will become a U.S. citizen or get their green card is a lot of fun.”

An inveterate traveler who spent a year as a Rotary International exchange student in Taiwan during high school, Folkmier is familiar with many of the countries his clients hail from, having visited 42 countries – and with more on his “to-do” list.

“I’ve had a passion for other cultures and all things international for as long as I can remember,” he says, adding that his fascination spans everything from reading about countries and cultures to studying languages to obsessively following international soccer.

Through a sister-school relationship, he took a trip to China in his senior year of high school; and later as an exchange student through Rotary International spent a year living with families in Taipei, Taiwan and attending high school.

“I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, but my host mom was very dedicated to helping me learn the language and I was pretty conversational by the time my program ended,” he says. “I ended up falling in love with the language and culture, so I decided to keep studying it in college.”

He spent a semester studying at Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal; two months in Thailand, where he volunteered in a slum community in Bangkok; and a semester studying at Peking University in Beijing while earning his undergrad degree in International Studies and Chinese at Indiana University.

“Living in different places has been a real blessing, because I’ve been able to make lasting relationships and go deep into the culture and language in a way that’s not otherwise possible on a short trip,” says Folkmier, who speaks Mandarin and conversational Portuguese.

A summer of law school was spent driving around Europe, camping and staying with friends; and visiting the village in southern Germany where his great-great-grandmother was born in the 1840s.
“It was definitely hard to go back to the real world after that trip,” he says.  

In 2012, Folkmier and six Duke classmates and a professor spent Spring break in Haiti, focusing on different aspects of life in a country rocked by an earthquake in 2010. 

“My group looked at the issues surrounding housing – or lack thereof – including legal issues, practical issues, and the status of rebuilding efforts,” he says. “The scale of the destruction was astonishing, even two years later. Haitian culture is so rich and the people were very warm in spite of all they have been through.”

On a trip to Peru, Folkmier spent three days hiking and camping along the stone paths of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, completing the hike on the fourth morning.

“At some point, you walk up over a hill and see the ruins down below for the first time and it’s just incredible,” he says. “Machu Picchu is already one of the most breathtaking places you can imagine, but that first glimpse after a long, hard hike is definitely something I’ll never forget.”

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