‘I advocate for immigrants who face innumerable obstacles’

Wild Geese: Fiona McEntee, Chicago

Fiona McEntee: ‘People are very eager to get to the US both on the personal and on the professional side of things. America will always have that draw, especially for business’

Fiona McEntee: ‘People are very eager to get to the US both on the personal and on the professional side of things. America will always have that draw, especially for business’

 

Immigration lawyer and the founder of Chicago-based McEntee Law Group, Fiona McEntee not only advocates on behalf of individuals and families, musicians, athletes and entrepreneurs, she has also authored a children’s book explaining the importance of a diverse and welcoming America.

Originally from Knocklyon, Dublin, McEntee first came to the US in 2002 as part of a student exchange programme with DePaul University College of Law in Chicago during her BA law degree at UCD.

She returned in 2005 to take a masters at Chicago-Kent College of Law. “I’ve been in Chicago ever since.” During her college years, McEntee gained “amazing experience” working in the criminal field, while taking vital intern roles at big firms in the city.

“By the time I finished my masters, I already had in-depth experience in my field, which was to be hugely beneficial.”

After two years at a high volume immigration law firm, where she got “the equivalent of 15 years experience”, McEntee went out on her own, founding the McEntee Law Group in 2009. “I was a solo practitioner at the start, but my brother came out to join me in 2014. Now we have a staff of around 14 including law clerks and staff attorneys.

“My workload varies. Regularly, my efforts range from lobbying in Washington, DC, to suing the Trump administration over the controversial travel ban. I advocate for immigrant families who face innumerable obstacles, while also focusing on the O-1 ‘extraordinary visa’ for clients in various fields like music, tech, entrepreneurship, TV/film, healthcare and even funeral planning.

“I regularly teach other immigration attorneys about this option so I’m keenly aware of the latest trends in adjudications. The interesting thing about the O-1 is that a lot of people – Irish people especially – tend to shy away from calling themselves extraordinary. Sometimes this option can work great for a client and they may end up being more extraordinary than they think themselves.”

McEntee also works with clients in the start-up space, advocating for immigration reform in this area.

“I’m thrilled that the Biden administration is implementing a new immigration option for start-ups known as the international entrepreneur rule. This option has just become available and I think it could work really well for Irish start-ups/founders that want to set up in the US, assuming they met the requirements of this new option.”

McEntee is chairwoman of the media and advocacy committee for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the national bar association of more than 15,000 immigration attorneys, appearing regularly on national and international media including MSNBC, BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

She also hosts a podcast, Immigration Revelation, charting inspirational immigration journeys. “Immigration is not just a system, or law, or policy. It’s a human experience. Each one is as unique and deserving as the next.”

Pandemic

Since Covid-19, however, her work has been mostly focused around the pandemic and the restrictions it brought about.

“I’ve been posting regular videos on my social media in relation to the bans, immigration changes, etc, so people can follow me online if they want real-time updates. I also just led a panel at our national immigration lawyers conference this week on the Biden administration’s priorities over the next four years.”

Despite a travel ban that has been in place since March 2020, people often get confused about travel to the US, McEntee says. “There are some limited exceptions to this – eg spouse of US citizens, green card holders, student visa holders, and some others. If you’re subject to the ban, you cannot travel directly from Ireland unless you get an approved national interest exception waiver.

“Given the complexities surrounding international travel to the US, people really need to seek out competent legal advice specific to their situation.”

In terms of the crucial summer months ahead, she says the Biden administration has established working groups to see how it might be able to re-start international travel safely. “We’re hoping that the travel bans will be lifted in the foreseeable future and replaced with a more science-based approach to travel that includes testing and vaccines but we just have to wait and see.

“I’m very much on top of any and all changes and I truly long for the day I can share the end of the Covid travel ban with everyone.”

Once the pandemic is over, McEntee believes there will be a rush to the US again like there has been in previous generations.

“People are very eager to get to the US both on the personal and on the professional side of things. America will always have that draw, especially for business – the market is just so big here and the opportunities are immense. Once you can get here, you really can try to foster your own American dream and we love being able to play a small part in that from the immigration point of view.”

Hall of fame

In 2019, McEntee was inducted into the Irish American Hall of Fame in the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. She also recently published her first book – Our American Dream – a children’s book on immigration.

“I wanted to show kids that every American Dream is just as important as the next. My goal was to use the book to tell stories of different immigrants in an age-appropriate way and also create a platform to have discussion around immigration with kids, and people really, of all ages.

“Under the Trump administration, we saw the most horrific anti-immigrant sentiments and policies and I truly hope we never return to that place again.”

As to her own visa, McEntee got a student visa, and was sponsored by a legal firm initially, before marrying an American and becoming naturalised.

“I love being able to vote and I love the lifestyle in Chicago. We live in the city but right by Lake Michigan. Under ‘normal’ times, there are so many things to do here from Cubs games to the aquarium with the kids and lots of great places to eat out and non-stop events.

“We are firmly settled here in Chicago and I can’t imagine moving back home to Dublin but never say never.

“There’s a great Irish community here in Chicago, too, so it’s lovely to have a home away from home here though I miss my family, my friends, and the banter. Also, chippers, King crisps, and fresh fish – it’s hard to find that in Chicago.”

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