“There is just so much to learn about the world and the people in it, and there is always something new to learn or understand,” said the 2012 WVU Law graduate. “It is humbling, and it enriches one’s perspective of our common humanity.”
Barnes has built his own sense of common humanity through travel and forming diverse friendships. He credits these experiences for teaching him an important lesson: being White is not the normal experience for most of the world, and it’s not even normal for many in the United States.
“I think the failure to appreciate that very fact has led to a lot of misunderstandings in the world and a lot of inhumane policies and laws,” he said. “Gaining that kind of perspective is important, especially as we as a country have started to really confront larger and broader questions about diversity and culture over the last several years.”
Barnes bridges his deep appreciation for diversity with his legal career as an Immigration Services attorney with Holy Cross Ministries, a nonprofit agency that provides education, health and legal resources to the immigrant community in the Salt Lake City region and across the state of Utah.
In this role, he helps immigrants with a variety of legal problems, ranging from naturalization, family reunification and DACA -related matters to securing visas for victims of crime or violence in their home countries.
The majority of clients Holy Cross Ministries serves are working class people from Latin America, but Barnes has assisted clients from the Caribbean, East and South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
“I don't think most citizens can truly appreciate the difficulty of immigrating to the USA. It can inspire sheer joy when someone is granted legal status, reunited with their family, or when they are naturalized. It also can inspire sheer terror,” Barnes said. “The American immigration system is intimidating, and the fear of family separation is very real. The best part of my job is the difference it makes for our clients and their families, and my passion comes from helping people that absolutely need it the most.”
When Barnes was in his early 20s, he experienced a version of what life as an immigrant is like when he moved to Canada. He obtained a visa as a domestic partner to enter the country while his significant other at the time attended graduate school and found himself in an unfamiliar place with different laws and in a foreign city in which he knew no one.
This experience, combined with lessons he learned over the years during his travels, have influenced how he approaches his clients and their legal problems.
“My experience living in Canada isn’t comparable to immigrants to the United States in general, because many of them have difficult past experiences and are entering a situation much, much less hospitable than I did,” Barnes said. “But I did become the primary income earner while living in Canada and often worried about what might happen if my legal status changed. I distinctly remember the anxiety and feelings of being an “alien,” and those memories influence the way I relate to my clients.”
Holy Cross Ministries is Barnes’s first immigration law job. He credits critical skills he built in law school, like a personal emphasis on preparation, concise legal writing and quick thinking, for giving him the confidence to change his career path after a few years of working in other areas of the law.
“Immigration law is a field in which there will always be a demand for attorneys, and there are a lot of different areas of specialty within it. Also, the law changes all of the time,” Barnes said. “Just last summer there were Supreme Court cases deciding broad swaths of law that impact millions of people. Now, there are quite possibly going to be legislative changes which will impact millions of people. This work keeps me on my toes.”
At WVU Law, Barnes participated in study abroad programs in Mexico and Brazil. He made friendships in Brazil that carried into his life after law school. He also honed his legal training on litigation, arguing in moot court competitions and serving as Chief Justice of the Moot Court Board.
He was also a student representative for the American Bar Association and a member of the Ethics Council, Public Interest Advocates and Labor Law Society student organizations. He spent one of his law school summers interning at the Appellate Division of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office in Charleston.
Barnes went on to work at the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office immediately after law school as Assistant Attorney General for the Workers’ Compensation Division. He also kept his foot in the door of international law by participating in a program organized by WVU Law Professor Alison Peck to spend three weeks shadowing attorneys in Curitiba, Brazil.
He worked as Associate Attorney with Cipriani & Werner in Charleston, West Virginia, before he began his role at Holy Cross Ministries.
Barnes is from Fellowsville, West Virginia, and graduated from WVU with bachelor’s degrees in political science and philosophy in 2004. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and two-year-old daughter.