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Diane Hunt
Launchpad

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.”

In another current case, a couple married in the 1960s in the Middle East lost touch with one another due to war and turmoil. The husband was presumed dead, and the wife came to the United States as a refugee.

“Decades later, they met again, both thrilled to find that the other was alive,” Hunt says. “They’re now remarried and we’re working on the husband’s marriage-based immigrant visa. We usually ask for photographs of the couple when we’re doing marriage based application, and in this case we had black-and-whites going back decades, which were fun to look through with the client.”

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.

“I then signed up for an immigration law course and a refugee law seminar, which cemented for me that this is what I wanted to be doing,” she says. “What I initially loved is that each case is a puzzle.
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,” Hunt says. “Our clients were tough. We had several clients who had been taken from their home country as pre-teens and forced to braid hair in U.S. salons, working 20-hour days with little food and no pay. I got to watch as their traffickers were brought to justice and as the girls found homes, learned English, started school, and applied to colleges. Helping a client get a visa is a temporary ‘high,’ but watching them thrive and love their new country is the best part of being a lawyer.”

Hunt joined the Antone Law firm in 2013.

“The attorneys and staff I work with at Antone are, without exception, wonderful and intensely committed people,” she says. “Every case is a team effort and I am constantly learning from the vast and varied experience of my co-workers.”

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.

“Even though parts of my family have been in Michigan for generations, like most Americans, we have favorite family stories about the immigrants who preceded us,” she says. “In my family, that includes my dad’s great-grandmother who stowed away on a ship from England and my Czechoslovakian grandfather who taught all of his grandchildren to polka. I love that, as an immigration attorney, I get to be a small part of future-American’s immigration stories.”

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 also co-founded and served as president of the U-M International Justice Mission student chapter.

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. Working with foreign-national victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, civil rights violations, and other crimes, her work included cases involving U-visa, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) applications.

“I got to see the best and the worst of the immigration system — all our clients were low income and many were also the victims of domestic violence and other crimes,” she says. “For some, the immigration system was their saving grace.”

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, thanks to a good foundation in the language at high school.

“My more recent Spanish teachers were the middle school students who served as our translators in Honduras - nothing tests your language ability like trying to keep up with a talkative pre-teen girl,” she says.

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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