Luisa Molina at Athens Square Park, Astoria. Photo: Maria Eliades
Luisa Molina, one of two legal interns at the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA), knows that the work she does for our clients is vital right now. The first generation American’s parents were born in the Dominican Republic, and after interning with Dinneen Cato, our Director of Legal Services, Molina says she has found her professional direction.
CIANA's Director of Development and Communications, Maria Eliades, chats with Molina to learn more about her impact on the clients, her family’s immigration story, and the unexpected impact on her life.
Maria Eliades: What do you like about working here?
Luisa Molina: As an office, I like how close we are. I think that we really care about each other, we’re into our lives.
When I have interviews with the clients, they give me a reality check. And a lot of the things they say, I feel really bad about and I’m just like, “Oh my god, these people really need help.”
There are just lawyers and attorneys out there that are taking advantage of these people and it’s so not fair. It’s really not. A lot of them come here and say, “Oh, I spent $2,000-$3,000 for this lawyer to do, let’s say an application that’s $700.”
That’s messed up. They’re working really hard for that money and they could put it into their savings or something but they’re here spending it on somebody that probably doesn’t even need it.
ME: What impact do you think you’ve had on the clients?
LM: They leave here with a smile and they appreciate everything we do. They always thank our lawyer, Dinneen, they always thank me, and they always say, “Oh, you guys are so helpful, I’ll definitely come back. I’ll tell other people about it.”
I feel like they think we’re telling them the truth, they feel comfortable here, you can see it at the end of the meeting that they feel like it. But, it’s really sad. Obviously I’ve had those experiences where I feel alienated, but I feel like for them it's much worse just because they’re not really a citizen.
At least I am a citizen, so I don’t have to go through that. So people always target them; thinking that they’re the criminals, or that they’re just here taking advantage of the people but who’s really taking advantage of them because look how much they’re paying just to become a citizen, or come here, and work here.
ME: What’s your immigration story?
LM: The other day my father told me, “Oh, I made 30 years in the country. I came on a day like this,” he said. “I came on a plane, and I had a window seat.”
And he said that during that time the planes used to fly through the city, and he saw the Twin Towers through the window and he thought that it was so awesome that he got to see that. But he said it's so different here, that it was very grey. It wasn’t colorful like how the Dominican Republic is. It felt very different to come here.
ME: What impact has this work had on your life?
LM: Immigration is a big topic right now, even my friends are talking about it, my family. A lot of people are talking about it and they say things that sound like [they’re] defending Trump.
Working here has really made me more aware of immigration. In my life too, how we all interact with each other, that’s one thing that changed in my life. And also, it made me reflect on my past, like what I went through. I just thought it was things that happened but now reflecting back, I know there has to be something greater than just us. It can’t just be me, one in a million. We’re all going through it.
When clients come here and they ask me questions about me, I sometimes try to make them feel comfortable by relating to them. I tell them stories about me growing up and how I needed tutoring and stuff, and how we tutor here, that this is a really helpful place and maybe you should try it because I went to an after school program somewhere else where I got my tutoring.
ME: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about working at CIANA that I haven't asked about?
LM: I used to think that immigration law had to do with international law. And now working here, I’m like, “Wait, no. There’s a lot of immigration problems here.”
In hearing everybody’s stories, immigrants need good people, people that can connect to them and actually have that background; that wouldn’t take advantage of them. So that’s why I’m interested in all of this.