Throughout the month of October, Catholic Charities is celebrating the volunteers and clients of our Pro Bono Project in anticipation of National Pro Bono Week coming up October 24-30, 2021.
Today, we highlight Pro Bono Volunteer Advocate Kristen Sisko of Meyner and Landis LLP. When Kristen first volunteered with the Catholic Charities Pro Bono Project in 2018, the project was brand new. She accepted representation of our fourth placed case for a young SIJS applicant in removal proceedings. Kristen started her legal career in legal ethics law, focusing on legal fee disputes and was inspired to pursue pro bono immigration work as she was looking for ways to apply her legal knowledge and skills in an impactful way.
Shortly after accepting the case, Kristen appeared in Immigration Court, for her first time, with her young client. Kristen reflects on this experience indicating that she knew the stakes were high for her client and that her young client was very unfamiliar with this country, let alone with navigating the legal system. “I kept telling myself…I have the capacity to think on my feet and be an effective advocate, despite not having familiarity with Immigration Court. What I was doing for my client was a heck of a lot better than if he had to go to court alone. I was confident in my skill set and knew I could help him,” Kristen says.
In fact, Kristen loved immigration practice so much that she turned it into a new legal career! Later in 2018, Kristen joined an immigration law firm where she practiced family-based immigration, represented individuals in removal proceedings, and worked on humanitarian matters, in addition to her pro bono SIJS work with Catholic Charities. In October 2020, Kristen changed firms and took on a new role where she now primarily focuses on employment-based immigration matters.
With respect to her experience with her pro bono work with Catholic Charities, Kristen states:
“When I reflect on how I jumped into immigration practice, particularly with immediately appearing in Immigration Court, I suppose it was a pretty bold move! Catholic Charities’ mentorship and support was tremendous. My mentor, Liane, was constantly available to answer questions, even when they weren’t exclusively about the legal case. M was young and new to the United States and often came to me with questions outside of his immigration matter, such as, whether he could get a driver’s license, how he could file taxes, and most recently, whether he could get the COVID-19 vaccine. I knew that staying in close contact with M would not only support him but would also benefit our attorney-client relationship in that he would keep me advised of important aspects of his life, that in turn, may affect his immigration matter. That was my priority. In hindsight, this allowed me to likely be one of the only reliable adults in his life, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Recently, Kristen was able to get her client’s removal proceedings terminated. His green card application is pending, and M will soon be a green card holder. He dreams of becoming a New York City Police Officer, (so he too can help others), and may perhaps one day, become a U.S. citizen!
Kristen’s advice to lawyers who may be interested in pro bono work with Catholic Charities is simple: “It’s not as intimidating as you might think. If you have a law degree, you likely have the skills needed to take on an immigration case, and I hope you will!”