Agnieszka K. Adams is an associate at Roisman Henel LLP in Oakland. Agnieszka recently accepted her first pro bono case through VLSC, and we asked her to share a little bit about herself and her experience working on the case.
Why do you volunteer with VLSC?
What I enjoy most about practicing law is helping my clients solve their problems. Many people cannot afford to hire an attorney to solve their legal issues. I think it is important for attorneys to donate their time and skills in order to help people who cannot afford legal representation.
What other community activities are you involved in?
My husband and I participate in various activities organized through our local library and our church.
What are you listening to on your iPod now?
Currently I am listening to Sia’s “1000 Forms of Fear.”
What inspired you to take on your first pro bono case?
I volunteered in law school to get “real life” experience. As a licensed attorney, the two women who inspire me to volunteer are the partners in my firm, Carolyn Henel and Margaret Roisman. Both of them believe that it is important to give back to your community and they are very supportive of me and my volunteer efforts.
Recently, you took a guardianship pro bono case where you were able to help Alejandro obtain a guardianship. What is significant about this case is that Alejandro was an undocumented minor who needed to have his guardianship completed before his 18th birthday so that he could qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Alejandro’s case was one of a kind. We had three weeks to get his Petition filed, heard, and granted. It was a sprint all the way until the end (the Petition was granted in two weeks from when we took the matter).
Tell us a little bit about Alejandro and what it was like to work with him.
Alejandro was a pleasure to work with. He loves going to school and volunteering at his church. We would meet at 6:00 a.m. in my office in order to allow Alejandro’s uncle (the proposed guardian) to get to work on time and so that Alejandro would not miss a day of school. (When I was Alejandro’s age I would do anything to get out of school).
Alejandro spends a lot time studying and is very proud of his GPA. Alejandro’s story is truly amazing. At a young age, he risked his life to escape danger in his home country of Honduras for the hope of a better life.
What happened in the case?
Alejandro qualified to apply for a “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.” This qualification allows unaccompanied minors to become legal residents even though they came to the country illegally. It is a special status a child can apply for if it is unsafe for the child to go back to his or her home country and be reunited with parents.
In order to apply for the SIJS status, a state court has to grant guardianship over the child’s person and also rule that the child is eligible for this status. Once the state court does that, the child can apply for a green card.
Of course, a state court can grant guardianship only over minors. Alejandro was turning 18 in three weeks when we took the case. We had to act very quickly to get the Petition approved.
How does having the opportunity to work with an attorney help clients like Alejandro?
It would be nearly impossible for Alejandro to successfully file the Petition on his own. The guardianship process is very rule-oriented. For example, a hearing on a Petition for Guardianship requires sending notice to family members of the minor. It would have been very difficult to send notice to individuals in Honduras.
Thankfully, all of the members of Alejandro’s family were willing to sign a waiver of notice. Still, we had to get the waivers faxed to Honduras, arrange for Alejandro’s family members to sign them, fax the waivers back to us, and then we filed them with the Court with a request to consider a copy of the signed waivers (because it could take months to get the original pleadings by mail from Honduras).
Without an attorney, Alejandro would not have been able to get his Petition granted, which would mean that he would have been deported. Staying in the United States will literally change Alejandro’s life.
What is one thing that you wished our donors/supporters knew about VLSC?
I wish donors and supporters knew how much VLSC is able to do on a limited budget. I can only imagine how much more could be done with more funds.