Pro Bono Attorney
Why did you choose to volunteer with the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project? How does this type of volunteer work relate to justice?
First off, I am a practicing Catholic and wanted to give back to the world. My first job was in finance and when I got my J.D., I knew I wanted to give back to the community. I had heard about this organization through friends. As an immigrant myself, I understand the idea of wanting a better life. After hearing about these cases, I loved how Esperanza fought for children who had been abused, been in a gang and wanted to get out, LGBT, and moms who have been abused. I understood that if these people were to return to their country; they would be jailed or executed. I believe in giving people second chances or even sometimes first chances to have a better life.
What was your experience like working as a pro bono attorney at Esperanza? What was one highlight and one challenge?
One highlight was helping others and hearing from a client that he was grateful that he was able get services for free. One challenge was that asylum cases are very difficult. It requires a lot of investigation and it is often very difficult to get background information from different countries, especially ones that do not support the rights of its citizens. I wanted to make sure everything was done correctly. One immigration officer might require a different way to answer a set of questions. Immigration is not my field so upon learning about it, I wanted to make sure I was representing my client in the best possible way. Another challenge was that the questioning by the immigration officer was so explicit and I was trying to stay professional and not so intrusive during the interview process.
Tell me a little about your case? What was your experience like working with your client?
My client was a 17-year-old boy from El Salvador who was abused by his father and harassed by gangs. I cried when he told me his story: he came to this country because he feared the MS 13 gang and was physically abused by his father every day. He couldn't stay home, but when he would leave the house, he would get harassed by MS 13. They (MS 13) told him they would kill him. It was a very sad situation. When I heard about this case, Esperanza gave me all the tools I needed to proceed with this case. During the interview, I was crying, my client was crying, and the interpreter was crying. The immigration officer was asking a lot of questions to make sure he was telling the truth. Everyone had a very emotional experience.
How did you feel during the interview? How did your client feel?
Being in the immigration office, I was very alert. I had to make sure everything was translated correctly. I wanted to make sure that if my client did not answer a question correctly, I needed to clarify and make notes. But at the same time, I was upset about the answers. I had a lot of mixed feelings, such as sadness, alertness, and happiness when it was over.
What advice would you give to a lawyer considering taking a case from Esperanza?
Please take a case! Right now, more than ever, we need your help. I want to encourage other attorneys to help. I would say don't worry if you aren't in the immigration field as Esperanza gives you the materials that you need for a successful case. Make sure you are reading all the documents clearly. If you follow all the instructions, you should be able to finish the case. Also forget your ego, make sure to ask questions from people at Esperanza as they are able help. This will be the most important thing you can do as an attorney!