Shabnam Lotfi Running for the
77th Assemby Seat
Born to Be an Activist
|Shabnam Lotfi, an immigration attorney, came to the United States
with her parents to escape the
violence of the Iraq-Iran War in the early 1980s.
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It is oftentimes the course of events that force people to seize the moment and become
activists, an incident occurs that forces them to act and to move beyond what could have
been a very content, every day existence. For Shabnam Lotfi, that incident occurred at a very
young age, something that radically changed the course of her life and eventually led to her
declaring her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 77th Wisconsin Assembly seat
being vacated by Terese Berceau.
Lotfi was born in Tehran in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq War that caused the citizens of each
country to pay a heavy price in human suffering and treasure.
“My entire childhood experiences have been shaped by living through a war zone,” Lotfi said
in her law office on W. Mifflin Street. “My mom didn’t know if I would live. I was north of
Tehran and it was close to a military base. And every time that they would shoot missiles,
these buildings that were made of cement would shake. And then the skies were red and they
would shut the electricity off at 5 p.m. so that no one knew where the cities were at night.
Food was scarce. We had to wait in line. And they lived a good life in Tehran, but left
everything behind and came to the U.S. with a suitcase for their kids. To have seen that early
in my life, I think I was seven-years-old when I wanted to be a lawyer. The first lesson that I
learned in life is that corrupt government is bad and it ruins people’s lives.”
Lotfi’s family lived in Germany until they got their green cards and then lived in Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia, wherever Lofti’s dad could get a job and get
promoted, according to Lofti. And then Lotfi’s passion for justice brought her to Madison.
“I wanted to go to a tier one school and I wanted to go to a school that really cared about justice,” Lotfi said. “I didn’t want to go to school in New York. I didn’t want
to go to school in a place on the East Coast. When I visited Madison for the first time, the first impression I had was there was so much chalk on the sidewalk. And it
was ‘pro choice movement over here, the environmentalist over there.’ It was rally after rally. And I just thought ‘Wow, these people are engaged. This is an active
community. It’s intelligent. They understand the issues.’ I was either going to Berkeley or Madison and I wanted to go to Madison. It was the culture of Madison. I
remember falling in love with the city and the people.”
Lotfi got her bachelor’s in business and then earned a law degree from UW Law School. And immediately, immigration law became her specialty, driven by
circumstance and a passion for justice. Her first client was her future husband.
“He had a job opportunity, a really great job opportunity, with Phillips,” Lotfi said. “They gave it to him, but then they called him a couple of days later and said,
‘Because you are a foreign student, we unfortunately have to take this offer back. There would be clearance processes we would have to go through for you and do
a lot of paperwork. I am so sorry, but we are taking this internship back.’ I saw how heartbroken he was and how painful it was. He’s been in gifted programs his
whole life. He is a talented engineer. And to have it taken away, I was like, ‘We’re getting married tomorrow.’ And we did and we got his green card within three
months, so that wasn’t a barrier to his career.”
By word of mouth and her adeptness with immigration law, Lotfi’s practice grew. And then Donald Trump became president.
“The first thing he did in the first week of taking office was sign an executive order banning people from certain countries from coming to the United States,” Lotfi
said. “I was horrified because people were landing in the United States after a 10-hour flight and they were about to be deported. Kids had gone home for the
holidays and couldn’t come back to class. I immediately created a group, called Immigrants United and within a week, we had 10,000 members. It was a grassroots
effort to connect people to attorneys at airports all across the country, to tell people where to go for protests, and to answer questions. It was a crisis and you have
to ask immediately. That group has evolved. Now we have 15,000 members. It is also where I got the evidence to file a lawsuit against the Trump Administration.”
Lotfi was fully engaged in the lawsuit and the protests at the Capitol Square. UW-Madison was having its budget cut once again and Lotfi pushed for the funding to be
restored. Someone noticed her at all of the rallies and suggested Lotfi run for the 77th Assembly seat. Lotfi thought why not and threw her hat in the ring.
Next issue: Stands on the issues