Provo immigration lawyer gives back to community

From left: Kim Buhler-Thomas stands with staff members, Ann Alpeter, Eliza Handley, Chelsie Broadhead, Laura Oliver and Heather Newey work at Buhler Thomas Law, P.C. in Provo. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Kim Buhler-Thomas moved to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was 5 years old. She said she understands the difficulties immigrants face and the sacrifices they make when moving to a new country.

Now an immigration lawyer, Buhler-Thomas holds immigration seminars for university students, provides free consultations and reaches out to complete strangers to offer legal advice. Her paralegal and assistant call her “superwoman.”

“When I came to BYU, I had no parental support. I was lucky that I had advisers, mentors, and BYU provided a lot of services for students to help guide us through college,” Buhler-Thomas said. “I decided when I graduated with my law degree, I wanted to come back and help give other students direction as a way to pay it forward.”

Buhler-Thomas said she always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in international relations at BYU while working several jobs. She then earned her law degree at the BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School.

She opened her own law firm in Provo, Buhler Thomas Law, P.C., after practicing law for more than 20 years.

Buhler-Thomas said she realized there were many immigrants who were misinformed about their legal obligations and wanted to help them understand the importance of creating a road map for their futures.

“I do these seminars because there are international students who come to America who are not familiar with our immigration laws,” Buhler-Thomas said. “Many times, they want to stay here in the United States after they earn their degree.”

Buhler-Thomas said she hopes her seminars will help students understand immigration laws as they plan their future.

“There are also many international students at BYU that marry U.S. citizens or U.S. citizens that marry foreign nationals,” Buhler-Thomas said. “My seminars give them guidance on whether the foreign national qualifies to file for a green card.”

Buhler-Thomas said the immigration ban and policies President Trump has enforced have been creating fear for immigrants.

“Many people, because of President Trump’s directives, are discouraged because they feel hopeless. They don’t want to return to their home countries,” Buhler-Thomas said. “Their lives are in America now, and my job as an attorney is to give them the best legal advice, if it’s feasible, so that they can remain here legally.”

Buhler-Thomas presents immigration seminars at BYU twice a year during October and February.

She said she makes time to give back to the community and care for others, even with a booked schedule and as a mother of eight children.

BYU alumna Anne Alpeter graduated with a degree in Latin American studies and works with Buhler-Thomas as her paralegal.

“Sometimes we have to kind of tell her that she needs to be our boss because she cares about all of our needs and is like a mom to us,” Alpeter said. “She always shows her appreciation for all of us.”

Alpeter said Buhler-Thomas is honest with her clients and is always active.

“I call her a crazy superwoman,” Alpeter said. “She’s crazy because I cannot be like her. I have never met anyone like her in my entire life. She never stops moving and does everything.”

Eliza Handley, a junior studying family life at BYU, is Buhler-Thomas’ personal assistant. Handley said Buhler-Thomas is a problem solver and always helps others.

“She’s very much a go-go person,” Handley said. “She’s a fixer. She likes to fix problems, so she’s always putting herself out there. When she gets a client, she stays on top of all her cases and is very organized.”

Handley said Buhler-Thomas values people and the relationship she builds with them and keeps in contact with everyone.

Buhler-Thomas said she gives back to the community by giving people legal advice and guiding them in the right direction.

“It’s just helping and giving them legal information that will empower them and help them make good sound decisions about their pre- and post-graduation future,” Buhler-Thomas said. “We all seek ways to serve, and this is the way I can help others.”

Buhler-Thomas said one of the most valuable lessons she has learned as an attorney is that everyone has problems. She tries to help as many as she can solve these problems by meeting with anyone who makes an appointment, including documented and undocumented citizens.

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