Report from Sally Saab,
By Sally Saab
Thanks to a fellowship funded by the New York Women’s Bar Association Foundation, I had the opportunity to work at inMotion during the spring semester of my second year at NYU Law.
I had hoped to use this as a chance to gain experience interacting with low-income female clients and to learn about family and immigration law. With the guidance of inMotion’s talented and dedicated staff, I accomplished that and more. I reinforced a commitment that I formed upon choosing the legal profession: to use what I have learned in law school and empower those less fortunate.
I was especially excited to work at inMotion because it is well known for assisting low-income women with family, matrimonial, and immigration law issues. During my internship at inMotion, I assisted callers on an intake hotline and, under the supervision of inMotion staff attorney Anna Ognibene, I also assisted in-house clients with immigration and divorce matters. Moreover, I took advantage of various CLE training seminars organized by inMotion, which provided the base of knowledge necessary for my client work.
Running the telephone intake hotline is one of the most basic forms of the assistance inMotion provides. InMotion staff and interns attempt to put callers on the right track by connecting them with advice and counsel for pro se assistance or, in some cases, pro bono representation. Answering the intake hotline required me to understand legal issues that just days before were new to me, and while it was a challenging experience at first, I soon came to enjoy being a first contact to callers in need of direction because I helped empower low-income women by giving them the tools to start toward the legal recovery they needed.
In addition to my work on the intake hotline, my other significant contribution was preparing an application for permanent residency status for a client who was the victim of domestic violence. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), victims of domestic violence at the hands of United States citizen or permanent resident spouses can file for permanent residency without having to obtain the usual supporting documents or corroborating statements from their abusers. Instead, a domestic violence victim must prepare an affidavit and supporting documents showing, among other things, that she was married in a valid, good faith marriage to an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Preparing the VAWA petition can be a daunting task for many non-citizen low-income women who, because of their immigration status, are often unable to work to earn money to pay for legal advice. InMotion’s free legal services are precious to these women.
I met with my VAWA client on multiple occasions to hear about her experience. Our many meetings were intense and emotionally trying. I was forced to ask difficult questions because my goal was to retell my client’s story in a complete, consistent, and compelling way for the immigration authorities. I reached out to her family and friends for supporting statements, and I collected documentation whenever possible. Along the way, I was impressed by the strength and composure of my client, and I was guided by the well-reasoned advice of my supervisor. I felt the importance of my work, and I poured substantial effort into its successful completion.
At the end of my internship, I had completed my client’s affidavit and supporting affidavits for her VAWA petition. My client was very grateful for the work I put into her case, hugging me goodbye on my last day with tears in her eyes. It was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have ever had. It reminded me of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place and reinforced my commitment to providing pro bono legal services to those less fortunate in the future.
By the semester’s end, I had fulfilled my goal of learning about immigration law and interacting with clients through my work on the VAWA petition. I had also learned about family and matrimonial law by assisting in multiple uncontested divorces throughout the summer. Without a doubt, however, the most fulfilling part of the semester was the feeling I received when helping my clients to regain control of their lives. This is the invaluable work that the inMotion staff accomplishes everyday and I was so happy to have had the opportunity to share in it.
Published with permission of the New York Women’s Bar Association.
NYWBA Newsletter, April 2012. Orginal title: Report from Sally Shinkel, inMotion Fellow.