The attorney of the week this week is Mercedes Guzman. She is licensed to practice law in New York State and the Dominican Republic and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, the New York State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
After receiving her law degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic, she pursued a Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) in Comparative Law at the Dickinson School of Law, Penn State University. She returned to the Dominican Republic where she worked at the Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia (one of the largest non-profit organization in D.R.), and at US Embassy.
She returned to the United States and became admitted to practice law for the State of New York in 2011. She worked for two years as a contract attorney in the area of compliance, specifically with the Foreign Corrupt and Practices Act, while volunteering her time working with individuals seeking advice with immigration law related matters. Currently she works exclusively as an immigration lawyer, distributing her time between her office and the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jamaica, NY where she volunteers her time.
Safe Passage Project has been extremely lucky to be able to work with Mercedes. Her passion and heart for service is seen in all she does. This was especially true when she agreed to take on the cases of two siblings from Honduras. Mercedes has written about her experience below.
My Experience as a Safe Passage Volunteer Attorney
I recently represented two Safe Passage clients in Family Court, Immigration Court and before USCIS. I was honored to represent my 11 and 17 year-old clients who were born in Honduras.
Since the bulk of my practice is Immigration law, I felt comfortable in immigration court. Family Court, on the other hand, proved more challenging and my clients found it very confusing. Family Court was all new to me since I do not practice Family Law and, although I had some basic knowledge of what was supposed to happen – and had the support of Safe Passage – theory is often different than actual practice.
While Family Court took multiple appearances and the judges were at times pretty challenging to work with, in the end we were able to help our clients secure legal guardians and the predicate family court orders enabling both children to petition USCIS for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Once the children had obtained SIJS status, we were able to terminate their removal proceedings and apply for their Legal Permanent Residency.
While the entire process was challenging – especially Family Court, and at times, traumatic, I would not change any part of it because we learn from a challenge like this. Every experience helps us grow as individuals and encourages us to appreciate what we have. This experience reminded me of how easy my life has been, and that I should not take what is handed to me for granted, even my own status in this country as a New Yorker, daughter of immigrants. Family Court to Immigration Court to USCIS and then back to Immigration Court, and then back to USCIS, was tiring, but in the end I am so happy that I was able to help these two young children obtain status. It had such a joyous ending and when they received their green cards I was almost as happy as my clients.
I am so grateful to Safe Passage for allowing me the opportunity to help these two children and I hope to be able to continue doing pro bono work with this organization for many years to come.