“Life is not black and white but shades of grey," Rebecca Stern would tell her sons. It's a lesson she learned when she started her career 29 years ago as a trial attorney with the U.S. government, and 27 years with the legacy United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
When INS became part of the newly created Department in 2003, Stern transferred to ICE as an Assistant Chief Counsel, where she continues to work to this day in Los Angeles, California.
As a trial attorney representing DHS in immigration removal proceedings, Stern deals with a diverse range of cases such as people seeking asylum, asking for a change in their status based on a family relationship, or those facing removal due to criminal convictions. The immigration court determines whether an individual should be removed from the United States or granted relief or protection, which permits them to remain in the country. Stern also works on cases involving human rights violations, and human trafficking, and cases with national security concerns.
Stern and her colleagues are responsible for asking enough questions and reviewing documents and files to ensure that individuals in removal proceedings know all avenues of relief for which they qualify – including reviewing for potential claims to U.S. citizenship. Making sure everyone has a fair in immigration proceedings is important to Stern.
Stern's children grew up as part of the DHS family, hearing stories of people she met in immigration court, how she approached their cases, and what she had learned from the day. She would tell her children, “Even good people can make bad choices" when discussing cases involving criminal convictions. She would tell them to be true to themselves, to who they were, and think about how they could contribute to the common good.
“I believe that my job and my pursuit of our mission made a lasting impact on my children," stated Stern. “They were proud of my hard work and how I treated people, and that was all I ever wanted."
As a single mother raising two sons, Stern recalls how her supervisors supported her when she would have to take an unexpected day off from work to tend to a sick child. And on days when the children did not have school, they were allowed to go to the courtroom and sit quietly with a sketchbook. To this day, attorneys still approach Stern with memories of those moments and how it made an impression on them. Stern still has a note that one of her children slipped to her in the courtroom that simply said, “Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom."
“A big part for me of being a family that serves and raising my children as a single mother was that my management really supported me," said Stern. “I was also supported by wonderful supervisors who made me feel that my work, my service, and my overall contributions to the office were appreciated. These people have forever touched me."
Stern felt supported by the agency when balancing her responsibilities in the office and as a primary caregiver. Now adults, her sons have embarked on their own career paths. Her oldest son Peter is a Fulbright Scholar teaching American literature and theater at a private school in Greece, and her youngest son Joel is a junior in college conducting university research on terrorism and national security threats. Stern is proud of her children and their dedication to their passions.
“Being a mother is the most important thing in my life," declared Stern. “I wanted to be a role model to them by showing them the importance of treating others with compassion, thoughtfulness, and respect, and dedicating my career to federal service.