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AIDS Legal Services Project Team Effort to Help Very Ill Client Become a US Citizen

William J. Barrett, Managing Associate at Orrick, and immigration practitioners Lucy Avedissian and Maribel Reynoso Blunt are what the LACBA AIDS Legal Services Project (“ALSP”) is all about. They use their boundless compassion, kindness, patience, legal skills and sheer moxie to help people living with HIV who truly have nowhere else to turn.

In 2017, a frail, HIV+ cancer ridden Alejandro (not his real name) turned to the ALSP for the second time for immigration assistance. Suffering with throat cancer, Alejandro could barely speak, and he had a full-time caregiver Andy, who became instrumental in assisting the ALSP on Alejandro’s behalf. Although he was quite sick, Alejandro wanted to complete his journey and become a US citizen.

Like many times before, the ALSP turned to Orrick, one of the Project’s biggest supporters, both in terms of pro bono time and financial donations, to see if they could assist. William Barrett, a three-year corporate real estate associate volunteered although he had never worked on a naturalization case before. The matter quickly became more complicated once it became clearer just how little English Alejandro knew and how sick he really was. From a legal standpoint this meant Alejandro would need a medical waiver in order to have his citizenship application approved.

But Will never hesitated and was completely unfazed and undeterred throughout the application process while maintaining a sense of humor and upbeat attitude. Thankfully Will also had an excellent mentor attorney to help along the way. Maribel Reynoso Blunt, a long-time ALSP volunteer immigration practitioner, who assisted with practice tips and advice.

Maribel also helped Will prepare for the naturalization interview and even attended the first one to serve as the Spanish interpreter. While Will had diligently worked with Andy and the doctors to put together the medical waiver form, the first interview did not go well. Alejandro’s health had deteriorated even further, and it was clear he was in the final stages of his illness.

The immigration officer vacillated between helpfulness and annoyance. Uncertain what to do, she called in a supervisor. Unfortunately, that only made matters worse for the client and the medical waiver was not approved. Everyone was determined to keep trying and they were given up to 90 days to resubmit the medical form. Will was back at the drawing table working with Alejandro’s doctor and Andy’s assistance.

Truly, it was a race against time. Two months later, at the second interview, Will was armed with a new waiver and a deathly ill client while he faced a hard to read immigration officer. This time, the waiver was approved but the immigration officer kept the citizenship application itself under consideration. Will gently pressed the officer to PLEASE decide as quickly as possible, but he was told it would be 1-3 months. Thankfully, it turned out the officer was much more sympathetic than she appeared to be, and approved the citizenship application a week later as well as quickly scheduled Alejandro’s oath ceremony.

This isn’t the first time ALSP volunteers worked with an immigrant client over many years from the time the clients first came to the ALSP with no legal status to the point of realizing their dreams of becoming a US citizen.

Alejandro’s life mirrors many others’ experience. He was born in southwest Mexico where he married at age 19. Like so many people from all over the world, the young couple sought better economic opportunities. So, a few years after they married, Alejandro and his wife ventured north and through Arizona they entered the US without permission. Alejandro worked as a cook – he and his wife stayed together for 17 years and they had two children born in the US. Along the way, Alejandro also contracted HIV and wound up with a minor criminal conviction.

They worked. They paid their taxes. But they had no way to legalize their status until their eldest child reached the age of 21. When his son became an adult and the family earned enough money to overcome any “public charge” issues, Alejandro came to the ALSP for help. AT that time, volunteer attorney Lucy Avedissian, who had already handled numerous challenging cases for the ALSP, stepped up to help. Over the course of several years Lucy worked with the family to prepare all of the necessary paperwork - the applications, the Affidavits of Support, the certified copies of the old criminal record from Arizona, and the response to the government’s request for further evidence. And then finally, in 2012, she got Alejandro’s “green card” approved.

With Lucy, Alejandro’s legalization journey began in 2008 and ended with Will and Maribel on April 23rd, 2019, when he was proudly sworn in as a US citizen thanks to the masterly team effort of ALSP volunteer attorneys and his compassionate caregiver, Andy.

"We were blessed to be a part of his life and thankful to be a part of his American Dream. " - Maribel V. Reynoso, Esq.

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