In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.
Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from our partners at Volunteers of Legal Service, which works to provide pro bono civil legal services to benefit poor people in New York City.
“You have been our God-send. Because of you, my kids will live the American dream. They can go to college. They don’t know yet how you’ve changed their lives — but for now, they’re just happy to be able to see their grandparents again this summer. They can finally go back to Nigeria without worrying about being able to come back.”
– James, VOLS Children’s Project client, 2012
James came to the United States from Nigeria to provide a better life for his family. In 2002, a few years after arriving in New York, he arranged for his two sons, Pope and Niko, to come to the United States on 6-month visitor’s visas. Wanting his sons to grow up in their father’s presence, he made a decision he later regretted; he allowed them to overstay their visas. James married a U.S. citizen and became a permanent resident in 2009, but his sons never renewed their visas. When Pope turned 16 and started thinking about the future, James was worried. Without an improvement in their immigration statuses, Pope and Niko would never be able to apply for financial aid for college or to work legally. The better life James hoped for would be impossible.
Fortunately, Pope and Niko attend a school that participates in Volunteers of Legal Service’s School-based Children’s Project. Through VOLS, the school collaborates with the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to resolve legal issues that may impede children’s education. Yasmin Carlos, an associate at Debevoise, volunteered to take the case under the supervision of partner Robert Goodman. With the assistance of Elizabeta Markuci, VOLS’ immigration expert, Yasmin was able to win legal permanent resident status for both Pope and Niko. Describing her experience, Yasmin said:
“I would not have been able to manage the documents and proof required to help Pope and Niko without Elizabeta Markuci’s expert assistance. She walked me through all the documents that need to be filed, including the costs associated with such documents, and helped me think through the evidence we needed to file with the applications to prove, among other things, that Pope and Niko originally entered the country on valid visas, that James’s divorce from his wife in Nigeria was valid and that his marriage to a U.S. citizen was also valid, and that James will not have to rely on public assistance despite his income being below the written minimum. When I had to research certain issues related to this case, Elizabeta was my first call and she usually had the materials I needed to at least get me started. Because of VOLS, I was able to assist my client in filing for adjustment of status without a hitch — after filing their applications, they were fingerprinted, asked to come in for interviews, and were granted permanent resident visas several weeks after.
I am also an immigrant whose parents came to the United States to seek a better life. The only difference here is that I was blessed that my parents had the opportunity and the means to do it right the first time around. Working on this case was rewarding because I was able to see first-hand how my position as a lawyer — made possible by immigrant parents who also came to the United States for a better life — was able to affect other childrens’ lives for the better. I was especially touched when my client called to say, ‘You have been our God-send. Because of you, my kids will live the American dream. They can go to college. They don’t know yet how you’ve changed their lives — but for now, they’re just happy to be able to see their grandparents again this summer. They can finally go back to Nigeria without worrying about being able to come back.’
Truth is, the school and VOLS were their God-send — I was just the little helper.”