This summer, I'm proud to be working at the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network in Atlanta, Georgia. GAIN is a nonprofit organization founded by the Atlanta Bar Association, originally to provide legal representation to asylum seekers in immigration court. Around 2010, the program grew to encompass individuals who had been the victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other violent crimes. GAIN has had a 100% success rate in securing visas for victims of violence, and faces some of the toughest immigration judges in the country in our asylum cases.
Their amazing work and success comes from a network of dedicated attorneys committed to their work. The five person team at GAIN received over 275 cases last year. Many of these cases are given to attorneys from large firms around Atlanta as pro bono work. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of the cases remain "in house", either because of their complexity or simply because of very quick turn-around time that is required.
Spending the summer in Atlanta is particularly special for me. Almost ten years ago, my family moved from suburban Atlanta to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. It's a great feeling to be back close to family and friends, but even more rewarding to serve the very community that, from a very young age, inspired my passion for immigration work.
When I was in second grade, a girl named Veronica moved into the classroom next door. She moved to suburban Atlanta from Mexico, and didn't speak any English. Being an outspoken and spunky seven-year-old, I wanted to talk to her. I was on a mission- but with very little follow-through. At the time, I didn't have the patience necessary to learn a language, and so I only ever learned numbers, te quiero, and how to order a Coca-Cola.
By the time my birthday came around in May, I felt like a failure. It was the end of the school year, and I couldn't communicate with Veronica. At lunch that day, Veronica's friend and translator tapped me on the shoulder. "Veronica wants to know how old you are," she said to me. Without a second thought, I responded, "Ocho." The biggest smile came across Veronica's face. For the first time in my life, the language barrier had been broken. At eight years old, I saw the impact words could have on someone's life. From then on, I wanted to learn Spanish so I could break those barriers for the rest of my life.
So while contacting clients to come in for meetings isn't anything remarkable, every call I make or email I answer or paper I translate into Spanish is more than just part of the job- it's a small victory. I'm looking forward to seeing how these small victories turn into much larger, life-changing victories.