“My client, Nicole, has become a fixture at my firm. She loves us, and we love her visits. And how she got to the United States was more than 100 hours of pro bono work,” says Jeff Goldman. In his more than 20 years of practice as a business immigration attorney, he’s helped countless clients—academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, and more—navigate the complex process to apply for the appropriate visa or green card. At the same time, he’s maintained a steady stream of pro bono cases focusing on family immigration and asylum.
Goldman (’86) had won asylum for Nicole’s husband, which should have meant that she and their three children—all facing persecution in Cameroon—could join him in the US. But, Goldman notes, “the US system fell apart and let this family down.” It took three years to get the children approved, during which time the father sank into depression and began drinking heavily. But US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claimed there was “confusion” on the marriage certificate and denied Nicole’s application. When conditions in Cameroon became too dangerous for her children, she had no choice but to send them without her to live with a father who was no longer equipped to care for them.
The firm Goldman worked for at the time stepped in to house and feed the family and he kept working to get Nicole to the United States. When her husband became abusive, began having an affair, and then started lying to immigration officials to keep Nicole from coming to the US, Goldman withdrew his representation of the husband and kept working for the rest of the family. “She was still in Cameroon—I had never met her,” he says, “but it was clear that she was the only one who cared for these children.” Finally, after 5 years and countless maneuverings, her application for humanitarian parole was granted and she was allowed to join her children in the US. “We celebrate Nicole every day as an unyielding protector of her children,” Goldman says, “and probably the strongest woman I know.”
As the head of his eponymous law firm, Jeff Goldman Immigration, he oversees a team of eight immigration lawyers and 12 paralegals serving large companies, venture capitalists, and the thriving Boston-area startup ecosystem as these organizations seek to ensure the status of their highly-trained workforce.
As Goldman tells it, he found immigration law almost by accident.
After graduating from BU Law, he began his career with the Essex County District Attorney’s Office before settling into a real estate practice. When his largest real estate client—a foreign national who had also become a good friend—asked for help with his immigration status, Goldman thought he was joking. “I told him I didn’t know anything about it,” he says, “but he simply said, ‘then you’ll learn.’ ”
Goldman signed up for a half-day continuing education course and was immediately hooked. “For four hours I sat there absolutely enraptured,” he says. “Hearing about how the speakers changed people’s lives, about how every day they need to read the law and apply it to a different set of facts … that’s why I wanted to be a lawyer.”
He took a leap and began as a solo practitioner. He took his first case—helping a scientist working for MIT—and USCIS approved the first visa he filed within two weeks.
“The client called to say thank you, and then the phone rang two more times that day,” he says. “So, I helped those people and then the phone rang four more times. And it hasn’t stopped. In 27 years, the phone has not stopped ringing.”
In those first years practicing law in a new field, Goldman stresses the invaluable support he received from his professional network. On day one, he joined the American Immigration Lawyers Association and immediately had access to mentors and career resources that helped him build up his practice.
Over time, his reputation led large firms in the area to seek out his expertise. As a relative newcomer to the field, he “never thought in a million years that a large firm was an option.” But when Testa Hurwitz asked him to open their immigration practice in the 1990s, he took another leap and spent the next six years at the firm, followed by eight at Mintz Levin. The work was “exciting, intellectually challenging, and a lot of fun,” he says, “but eventually I realized that what I really love doing is practicing immigration law, not being a manager in a huge law firm.” With that decision made, he struck out on his own again.
Jeff Goldman Immigration opened in 2011 with the clear intention of focusing on business immigration, but to always make time for family immigration and pro bono asylum claims. “I learned early on that I loved working asylum cases,” he says, “but hated charging for it.” He partnered with the Political Asylum/ Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project to take on cases and mentor other lawyers who were new to asylum work.
Of the many cases that came across his desk—from PAIR or otherwise—the ones that involved families always stuck out. A family fleeing political persecution in Haiti, a mother and son separated at the southern US border. Cases like these, discussed with his own family across the dinner table, gave rise to the Open Avenues Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Goldman, his wife Judi, and daughter Danielle, to highlight the vital role foreign nationals play in American society.
“Our country depends on highly educated and talented immigrants to keep the economic engine running,” he says. “The Open Avenues Foundation partners with companies in the STEM field to send their foreign national–employees to lead experiential learning opportunities for students at community colleges. We’re trying to change the damaging narrative that immigrants are not contributing to this country.”
This fall, Goldman was recognized by the BU Law community with the Victor J. Garo Public Service Award, which honors a BU Law alum whose work reflects the perseverance and dedication to public service demonstrated by Victor J. Garo (’65), who spent 30 years working to exonerate a wrongly convicted man serving a life sentence for murder.
After a lifetime of advocacy for immigrants in the Boston area, Goldman is grateful that he’s been there to help so many, whether the goal was to win asylum for a family or help an engineer continue to work in the US and support their family here and abroad. “At the end of the day, for both, you’re changing someone’s life,” he says.