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The Outlier

Ted Oswald

If you want to know what life is like for the typical immigration lawyer these days, don’t bother asking Ted Oswald.

As the immigrant legal services manager at World Relief’s office in Sacramento, Oswald is quite an outlier.

First of all, Oswald is not deeply involved in securing visas for foreign workers or fighting deportations, despite a rise in immigration arrests since President Trump took office. Secondly, most attorneys helping the Special Immigrant Visa holders who previously served as interpreters for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen their client numbers dwindle. Yet business is booming for the ’11 alumnus.

Oswald joined World Relief’s staff in March 2017 to help address legal needs in and around Sacramento, home to the second largest Afghan community in the U.S. and increasingly a place of refuge for those from the former Soviet Union.

“Sacramento has been a real hub,” he said, referring to the local Afghan community, which grew by nearly 2,000 people in the last year.  “The numbers are really an anomaly. We’ve been insulated from the national effects upon resettling organizations.”

So far, Oswald’s focus has been on helping Special Immigrant Visa holders work through a legal process that resembles refugee resettlement. In the future, Oswald’s clients will have other legal needs.  

“Down the road, we’ll see huge numbers of people needing to naturalize and become citizens,” he said.

World Relief’s fledgling immigration legal services operation has been able to expand also through the benevolence of California, which appropriated $30 million for statewide services for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the policy shielding immigrants who enter the U.S. as minors from deportation, which Trump has fought to terminate.

“One of the reasons they were able to bring me on was the availability of funds,” he said, adding that the DACA work had been placed “on hold” as of mid-December. 

Oswald’s job also involves mobilizing volunteers to help with naturalization, providing community education programs for the Slavic and Latino populations and helping undocumented individuals who are victims of human trafficking or violent crime obtain visas.

Little FlowerReturning to Sacramento was a homecoming for the California native, who’d spent the three previous years in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, serving jointly with his wife as a policy analyst and advocacy coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee.

There, Oswald had worked to hold the United Nations accountable for a cholera epidemic sparked inadvertently by peacekeepers visiting Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

“The U.N. accepted responsibility, but donor nations haven’t provided money for reparations or even to meet community level solutions,” Oswald said, adding that people are still dying as a result of the epidemic. “Under the Obama Administration, it wasn’t easy to get help. Now there’s less.”

That stint followed a co-op placement Oswald arranged in Cité Soleil, Haiti, promoting health care and human rights and serving as a monitor for the nation’s presidential election in 2010.

Oswald’s travels inspired a fiction-writing habit that has yielded three novels. The newest book, “Little Flower,” is a self-published literary mystery set in New Delhi in which a detective nun reminiscent of Mother Theresa teams up with a sex worker to solve a murder. 

Next, Oswald aims to complete the third part of a trilogy he began with “Because We Are,” published by an Amazon imprint, and followed with “There is a Land,” both of which convey the tragic circumstances of Haiti in accessible, human terms. 

If Oswald’s passion for writing is undiminished, his opportunities have ebbed since May 2017.

“It’s been hard to do original writing since my son was born,” he said, admitting to the one circumstance that might put Oswald squarely in the mainstream.