Alumni Spotlight: Gabriel Harrison

Headshot of Gabriel Harrison

Studying history at Western has helped me in my ability to appeal to judges as readers, as humans and has helped me argue for my clients many times. The law is rooted in history, and my work forces me to consider and explore the historical context in which my clients live. 

History Department Chair, Susan Costanzo, sat down with Alumnus, Gabriel Harrison, to discuss his work, his life, and how Western helped prepare him for what came after graduation.  

After graduating in 2004 with his undergraduate degree in History and Political Science, Harrison went on to receive his JD Degree from the University of Oregon School of Law in 2012. He has been working as an immigration lawyer representing individuals and families across Whatcom and Skagit counties since 2013, when he started his current practice with his partner, Holly Pai.  

When asked what drew him to immigration law, Harrison shared the life experiences he had in the years between graduating from Western and enrolling in Law School.   

After undergraduate, Harrison started volunteering at Sterling Meadows, a migrant housing community in Bellingham where he provided tutoring in the evenings. While engaging with the kids, he would hear phrases like “they went back to Mexico” in reference to where a person was and realized that these kids were experiencing the removal of community members due to their status as undocumented immigrants. 

What solidified his desire to work in immigration law was his year in Guaymas, Mexico where he taught English and strengthened his own Spanish language skills. During that year, he heard many stories from people in the community and listened to their frustrations and challenges with the U.S. immigration system. After returning to the States and finishing law school, Harrison decided to come back to his roots and serve the migrant community that had inspired his passion for this work.    

When asked about a typical day in his work, Harrison describes meetings with clients from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Venezuela, most of whom are farm workers and who often speak only Spanish or an Indigenous Latin American language. He credits his ability to listen to the stories of his clients, often tragic, as a critical part of building the strongest cases possible. Although the stories can be hard to hear, Harrison says he considers himself “lucky to have a job that I feel is beneficial to the world.” Helping people during what can feel like insurmountable obstacles has been the most rewarding part of the work. To feel like people can come in here and take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, I have someone who’s going to be with me,’ that’s important.”  

Harrison expressed that one of his strengths in practicing law is his ability to build and tell a persuasive story, a skill to which he partially credits his history degree. Studying history at Western, he said, has helped him in his ability to “appeal to judges as readers, as humans” and has helped him argue for his clients many times. He also talked about the law being rooted in history, and how his work forces him to consider and explore the historical context in which his clients live. As an example, when he is working a with client who lived through the Guatemalan Civil War, he needs to have some understanding of the history of that country and that war. In addition, Harrison said his time at Western helped him build the skills he still uses every day when conducting research for his clients and sorting through and taking in the volumes of material he reviews for each case.   

When asked if he had any advice for current history majors, Harrison suggests not to worry too much about what comes next. While in college, students are often pressured to know what their career path is going to be and Harrison shares that “if history is what you’re passionate about, do it! And don’t really worry about [your career path] so much.” And he adds, “History is something that teaches you how to understand people and cultures and society and politics and everything else. It gives you this great foundation for life.”