SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
What’s one of your best memories from your time in Catholic education?
There are so many but one thing I still laugh about is that my mom worked as the director of religious ed for a couple of parishes. I always joked with my friends that we were so religious I had to go to Catholic school and I also had to go to CCD classes.
What made you decide to study theology?
I think it for sure had something to do with being in Catholic education my whole life and wanting to continue that. My faith was and is very important to me, and in addition to that, I was just fascinated by studying theology as an academic. It helped grow my faith. Church history was so interesting, and Catholic social teachings are so near to my heart and ingrained in me from my mom.
Did studying theology help you in law school?
Absolutely. In theology, the main thing you’re doing is reading and exploring the ideas in the classroom. When I went to law school and my classmates were overwhelmed by the readings, I was used to it.
Is there a saint that you feel particularly connected to?
When I was little, one of the people I was drawn to was Oscar Romero in Central America. He was killed when I was young, in 1980. My mom had a painting of him on the wall that I remember always looking at. I read about him more when I was in my undergrad; his movement in liberation theology and the idea of fighting for the poor and oppressed fascinated me and inspired me. His impact in my life kind of came full circle when he was canonized a year or so ago.
Did he impact your decision to practice immigration law?
Part of it, for sure. I originally went into law school thinking I wanted to work in the district attorney’s office or in the public defender’s office, but when I was in my second or third year of law school and while I found it very interesting, it wasn’t for me. I got an internship at a large law firm and was there for a while but started staying home when we had kids. I was home for over 10 years but then a friend of our family, who volunteers at Catholic Charities in their refugee and immigration services department, mentioned that there was an opening. It was exciting that after that many years, I was able to put it all together and practice law in such a meaningful way.
What makes your practice with Catholic Charities Milwaukee unique?
We’re focused on family immigration; so we help a lot of people who have relatives that are trying to get status here in the U.S. We also have a lot of people who are victims of domestic violence, and people trying to claim asylum. There are many immigration firms in Milwaukee but we’re pretty much the only one that does pro bono work. We only serve lower-income clients who meet our income requirements, and then we have a very modest fee scale we use. We’re helping people who wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for us. We’re doing things that are making a huge difference. It’s a life-changing thing for someone to become a citizen and I’m honored to be part of that.
What keeps you motivated?
There are lots of setbacks, the law changes a lot, and there are lots of obstacles to overcome. But then someone gets their green card or someone passes their citizenship test, and those are the things that really keep you going.
How does your faith play an active part in your work?
The importance of social justice in our faith is huge. I always think of the verse in Matthew when the Son of Man comes and looks to those on his right hand side and says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” It hits it home for me. This isn’t a suggestion from the Lord; it’s a command. We have to help the helpless.