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UEL law graduate working in frontline of US immigration system

Yaniv Lavy admits life has been 'very hectic' since Donald Trump was elected US president

By Kiera Hay

As an immigration lawyer in New York City, University of East London (UEL) alumnus Yaniv Lavy has found himself at the heart of one of the most explosive political battlegrounds in recent memory.

Life has been "very hectic" for the law graduate since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States in January and ushered in a new era of hard-line immigration reform in the US. Yaniv bluntly acknowledges that many of his clients are "terrified"’.

“People are running to file applications for green cards and coming in for consultations," he says. "I’m talking to clients that are already citizens who are also concerned about whether they can fly and if there will be issues."

The most controversial action taken by the Trump administration so far is an executive order stopping entry to the US for refugees and suspending entry for travellers from six mostly Muslim nations. Two successive versions of the ban have been halted by courts, and its legal status is under review. 

Chaos reigned at airports across the US, including in New York, in the days following the first order, with thousands of people targeted by the order being held at airports or unable to board flights into the country. 

Yaniv takes a somewhat pragmatic approach to the ban: “I don’t like it too much, but what can we do?”

With immigration officials especially zeroing in on undocumented US residents, Yaniv says his advice to people is to stay within the confines of so-called 'sanctuary cities' – places that limit how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration agents.

“They should consult with an immigration lawyer and see what their options are and try not to leave those cities,” he says. “They should also try not to drive because traffic violations can trigger an investigation into status. Just stay under the radar.”

He does think there is hope for people who have established lives in the US and stayed out of criminal trouble. 

“I believe that in the next year or two Trump will focus on deporting many immigrants who have serious criminal records and people with a final order of deportation, but after that he will soften up and give benefits to long-term immigrants and children of immigrants,” he says.    

Yaniv’s legal practice in New York City consists of business immigration, family-based immigration, marriage visas, people with green cards who want to apply for citizenship, deportations and asylum cases. 

Born in Nahariya, Israel, Yaniv says he chose to study law at UEL because he saw that the world was becoming more globalised, making it a more connected, ‘smaller’ place.

“I thought that having a degree in British law would open up more of the world to me in terms of learning, travelling, and career opportunities,” he says.  

Yaniv spent the first two years of his degree studying at UEL’s former campus in Haifa, Israel, before moving to London for his final year. He graduated in 2003.

“The then head of law, Sharon Levy, was a great person and lecturer. She taught me criminal law and law and medicine. She was a very friendly, happy person and always available to answer my questions, he says.

“Patricia Berwick, the school assistant executive officer, was also a very friendly person and was always available to help students,” he continues. 

After leaving UEL, Yaniv decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer in New York.  He worked part-time as a security guard in a Jewish school there while studying for the state bar exam.

“I studied very hard and took the bar exam, passing it the second time. I then found a job in a small firm doing real estate. I also developed an immigration law department for that firm,” he says.

In 2006, Yaniv started his own legal practice, later merging with the law offices of Michael Feiner, who is well known in the New York legal and Israeli communities for his work in immigration law. Their firm is now known as Feiner & Lavy P.C.

As he helps his clients navigate the US immigration machine, Yaniv says he is aided by his own experiences.

He says, “I always tell my clients, ‘I know it’s hard for you to believe, but I understand you more than many other people do because I’ve been on the other side’. I came here as an immigrant. I know it’s not easy to go through the system."