Immigration is a hot issue not only nationally, but locally. And lawyer and teacher Hannah E. Stone has been at its center in Whatcom County.
Stone, 42, has worked in immigration and citizenship law in Bellingham for 11 years and has served as chair of the Whatcom County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her clients’ countries of origin range from Canada to China. She has hundreds of cases that are ongoing at any given time from countries all over the world.
“I realize that lots of people focus on ‘Mexicans’ when they discuss our immigration laws,” Stone says. “However, we have immigrants from all over the world, even here in Whatcom County.”
Stone is one of a handful of immigration attorneys in Whatcom County, and believes she is the only one who represents clients at removal proceedings, in which an individual could face deportation. She takes on a few clients each year for free through services like Kids in Need of Defense. She also teaches immigration law at Western Washington University and hosts education clinics to inform community members about their rights.
She is passionate about her work. In an interview, her eyes welled with tears as she recalled her first asylum case. She had represented a woman from Kenya threatened with female genital mutilation. During her immigration hearing, the woman pleaded for more than five hours with the judge in her native tongue, stopping briefly every so often to allow the translator to attempt to relate her gut-wrenching story. Finally, the woman was granted asylum status and allowed to stay in the United States.
This event took place 10 years ago, but Stone recalls it like it was yesterday. She was relieved that her client was granted asylum, but in doing so, her client’s daughter was left without her mother in Kenya. But the woman had to escape because, as she told Stone, “I’m no use to my daughter if I’m dead.” Stone is still working with this woman in an attempt to emigrate her daughter to join her mother in the U.S.
Ana Cecilia Lopez, director of the Law, Diversity, and Justice Program at Western’s Fairhaven College, said Stone’s work in this community is invaluable. “Hannah spends hundreds of hours providing free information through clinics and community gatherings. This information is vital for our community to know their rights and responsibilities, especially [those] who need to interact with the immigration system,” Lopez says.
Stone said her work is gratifying but can also be frustrating. “I’m trying to not be too cynical with the current landscape of the world. There are obstacles, but it is gratifying to give options to someone who thinks they don’t have any.” She hopes to one day go into policy-making and reform the immigration system through a more humanitarian lens.