Kara Lynum: The Immigrant’s Lawyer

Colin Michael Simmons

Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates people making Minnesota a better place.

Sometimes the lawsuit a lawyer is most proud of is the one she never filed.

Kara Lynum was among the swarm of volunteer attorneys who descended on the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in January 2017 to assist travelers affected by President Trump’s first attempt at a Muslim ban. The poorly written executive order had government officials, legal experts, and worried passengers en route to the U.S. all scrambling to determine who the ban affected and how.

Here in Minnesota, that chaos meant that one Somali man returning to the U.S. found himself detained for more than four hours. As volunteer attorneys hurriedly drafted paperwork to sue for his release, Lynum was left to negotiate with an uncooperative border patrol agent who repeatedly denied her access.

“Cool,” the St. Paul attorney finally said. “Can I get your full name for the lawsuit?”

The agent relented. The detained man went home.

The ban went into effect while Lynum was visiting Canada. By the time she touched down in the Twin Cities, concerned lawyers had amassed, hoping to help. With no advance planning, Lynum and two other attorneys (from the Robins Kaplan firm and the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans) came up with a plan. Shifts of volunteer lawyers (some of whom had zero immigration law experience) were posted at the airport around the clock, while on-call immigration specialists stood by to answer questions, by phone or on a running Slack chat.

When she opened her own solo practice about six years ago, Lynum hardly expected to encounter the current state of emergency that immigration attorneys now navigate daily. Born and raised in Eau Claire, Lynum graduated from William Mitchell Law School in 2010. “I decided that I would rather solve people’s problems than corporations’ problems,” she says. “To focus on people’s lives rather than arguing about money.”

On one recent day, Lynum was juggling three meetings, each related to a different change in Trump’s immigration policy. One client was losing temporary protected status. Another had been covered by DACA, the Obama administration’s deferred action program currently fighting for its life in federal courts. And then she had a consultation related to the Muslim ban. “The Trump trifecta,” she jokes.

Last month, Lynum mentioned DACA’s hefty $495 filing fee during an MPR appearance and a caller offered to pay for an applicant. After a tweet about this donation went viral, Lynum helped set up a fund with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota that has already raised nearly $30,000 for DACA applicants.

To stay sane and effective through all this, Lynum recharges where she can. “I’m always inspired by clients who are bearing the brunt of all this and are so graceful about it, and calm, when I feel moments of terror and panic,” she says. “And I walk my dog a lot.” 

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