Legal Services Project Team Effort to Help Very Ill Client Become a U.S. Citizen

William J. Barrett, managing associate at Orrick, and immigration practitioners Lucy Avedissian and Maribel Reynoso Blunt, represent the best of LACBA’s AIDS Legal Services Project’s (ALSP) volunteers. Our volunteers' boundless compassion, kindness, patience, legal skills, and sheer moxie to help people living with HIV who truly have nowhere else to turn, have made a difference in thousands of lives.

In 2017, a frail, HIV+ cancer ridden man who we will call “Alejandro” turned to ALSP for a 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 ALSP on Alejandro’s behalf. Although he was quite sick, Alejandro wanted to complete his journey and become a U.S. citizen. 

Like many times before, ALSP turned to Orrick, one of the project’s biggest supporters, both in terms of pro bono time and financial contributions, to see if they could assist. William, 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. 

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

Maribel also helped William prepare for the naturalization interview and even attended the first one as the Spanish interpreter. While William 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. William 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, William was armed with a new waiver and a deathly ill client. This time, the waiver was approved, but the immigration officer kept the citizenship application itself under consideration. William gently pressed the officer to please decide as quickly as possible, but he was told it would be one to three months. Thankfully, the officer 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 ALSP with no legal status to the point of realizing their dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen.