Michigan Law alum helps families start new lives

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 Experience at the U-M Human Trafficking Clinic helped cement Diane Hunt’s interest in immigration law

 
By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
 
The crisis in Syria has particular meaning for Diane Hunt, an immigration attorney with Antone, Casagrande & Adwers in Farmington Hills who is helping a family from Syria to apply for temporary protected status. 
The family of five showed Hunt and her colleagues YouTube footage of tanks rolling down their street in Syria. 
“The children had only been able to attend school sporadically because it was too dangerous to leave the house, and one of the family member’s worksite was bombed,” Hunt says. “If their applications are approved, they’ll be able to stay in the United States until conditions improve at home.”
While Hunt has a diverse caseload – with everything from work-based visas to family based, from filling out initial forms to attending citizenship interviews – she particularly enjoys family based immigration cases. 
“I’m kind of a sap, and some of the marriage-based cases are fodder for a future career as a romance novelist,” she says with a smile.
Hunt was drawn to immigration law during three years as a student at the University of Michigan Law School where she worked at the U-M Human Trafficking Clinic on domestic and international cases. The cases that interested her most were those with complicated immigration fact patterns. 
“What I initially loved is that each case is a puzzle,” she said. “Immigration law is heavily fact dependent and since no two clients ever have the exact same history, figuring out their immigration options is always a fresh challenge. I still love that about immigration law, I’m always learning something new.” 
Hunt went to law school thinking she wanted to go overseas and fight human trafficking and injustice abroad. 
“What I learned at the clinic was that there are people who need strong advocates in our own back yard,” she says.
Many of the clients were trafficked within Michigan, such as being forced to work at Detroit-area strip clubs. One woman was forced to work in a Michigan restaurant without pay through threats to her children and physical violence; Hunt was able to help her work towards getting a T-visa, which allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States so they can be present and participate in the prosecution of their traffickers, and helps ensure that they are not returned to a hometown where, in many cases, they are at risk of being re-victimized.
“Many of our clients had been through hell and back, and a stable immigration status was the first step towards a new life,” says Hunt, who joined the Antone Law firm in 2013. 
Hunt’s love of history fueled her love of immigration law, and she received her undergrad degree from the U-M in history, with a minor in economics. 
In her junior year, she was given a book about IJM, full of stories of lawyers fighting injustice through the judicial system. 
“Up until that point, my image of lawyers was an amalgamation of ‘Law and Order’ characters and crime thriller protagonists, where lawyers spend most of their time making impassioned speeches to juries and dodging bullets,” she says. 
Although she had never seriously considered going to law school, the book opened her eyes to the idea that practicing law looked a little bit different in real life. 
“IJM does some amazing work fighting slavery, trafficking, and other injustices on a global scale,” she says. “These lawyers were using their research and writing skills to make an actual impact in the world around them. As an idealistic 20-something it was, and still is, honestly, an exciting thought that I could use my talents to help people. After reading the book, I signed up for the LSAT and crossed my fingers.” 
She attended Michigan Law on a Dean’s Scholarship for academic achievement and leadership, graduating cum laude in 2012. Focusing her legal education on immigration law and international human rights, she worked at the reference desk and as a phone page in the U-M Law Library. She also served as president of the Christian Legal Society, where she met her future husband, Charley Meng, himself an immigrant from China and now a lawyer in Detroit. 
After graduating, she completed a fellowship with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), where she had interned after her second year of law school. 
One client had been severely abused by her husband; and although eligible for a green card based on their marriage, he had never filed an application on her behalf. Instead, he used her immigration status to manipulate her. In addition to physically abusing her, he would threaten to have her deported and permanently separated from their children. Somehow she found the bravery to leave the abusive household and report the abuse to her family doctor; and MIRC helped her petition for her green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 
“I was the lucky attorney who got to call and tell her that her green card had been approved,” Hunt says. “I’ll never forget that phone call, she burst into tears of joy and relief. To her, the sense of safety that having a stable immigration status brought was priceless.”
But Hunt also saw the broken side of immigration law while working at MIRC. A client called the police on an abusive husband, and, because he alleged that she hit him while he was attempting to stab her, both parties were charged with domestic violence. Although the wife had endured years of violence, she faced deportation because she was not identified as a victim.  
“These cases drove home to me how important and deeply personal immigration law can be,” Hunt says. “To the individuals affected, it’s not a matter of policy, but of home and safety and family.”
Hunt, who spent time in Honduras doing research on rural business development and microfinance with the non-profit Union MicroFinanza, speaks conversational Spanish. She is also learning Mandarin from her mother-in-law. 
“So far I can’t say much beyond, ‘I don’t speak Mandarin well,’ but it’s a start.”
A native of Fairfield, Conn., Hunt now lives in Novi, with her husband and their “very vocal” tortoise shell cat, Penny. An avid reader, Hunt also loves to hike, and is a huge fan of Wolverine football. 

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