Expanding the Light: Interview with Director of Legal Services Dinneen Cato
Dinneen Cato, Esq. in Athens Square, Astoria. Photo: Maria Eliades
Since her introduction at CIANA as the Director of Legal Services in April of 2018, Dinneen Cato has been an invaluable part of CIANA’s mission, assisting immigrants seeking accessible legal aid. An immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago herself, Cato has a personal connection with her work she engages and is passionate about providing the best service possible for her clients.
She reflects on her time at and her hopes for CIANA with CIANA’s Communications Intern, Edinam Eshietedoho.
Edinam Eshietedoho: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today! How long you have been working at CIANA?
Dinneen Cato: No problem at all! I started working for CIANA in April of the past year, so I’ve been working in the capacity of the Director of Legal Services for about 15 months now.
EE: What inspired you to get involved with CIANA?
DC: Well, in addition to being an immigrant from Trinidad myself, before starting at CIANA I had prior experience in immigration law. I saw that CIANA had an opening for an immigration attorney and applied hoping to hear back. The rest is history.
EE: What made you want to be an immigration attorney?
DC: I didn’t always want to be an attorney. My first job was a job in the records department at a corporate law firm. I had my associates degree and thought I might go through life without getting a 4 year degree but I quickly realized that wouldn't be the case. During that time I worked with and around attorneys and thought, “I could do this.” So I decided to get my bachelors degree and go on to law school. During this period of establishing myself, I had the choice of doing pro bono work in either the housing sector, dealing with foreclosures and things like that, or in immigration. I chose the latter.
EE: That sounds like a very interesting journey, and one that makes a lot of sense. What do you like most about your work here at CIANA?
DC: I would say it has to be working with the clients. Here at CIANA we get a lot of clients in need of help and they’re always a joy to work with.
EE: In what ways do you think you have impacted CIANA overall in your time here?
DC: I knew CIANA had a good reputation here among its clients before coming in. By my involvement with CIANA I believe I’ve been able to expand the light that CIANA shines and help create a more diverse client.
I think the clients appreciate that I am not the typical attorney that you expect to see. I’m an immigrant woman, and I don’t have the stereotypical, typical look of an attorney. My presence has helped diversify and broaden those we cater to at CIANA and help these clients feel comfortable in the space.
EE: In what ways has working at CIANA impacted you personally or professionally?
DC: I’ve been working in immigration law for a while, but the context before was very limited because of my position. Being here as the Director of Legal Services, I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity to be able to learn and grow as an attorney through this role.
EE: What do you hope to see happen at CIANA as we continue to expand?
DC: I’m hoping for growth at CIANA in the legal department so that we can take on more cases and more difficult ones. CIANA has a holistic approach to its operations, which is a little different from other organizations that focus on papers and numbers. We focus on the individual. Both are important, however I believe people flock here so much because of the atmosphere of comfort and familiarity we foster. Our clients see CIANA more like a home than a legal office, so I hope to see CIANA’s bandwidth grow in such a way that we can keep this individual approach while also expanding the capacity of the legal services we provide.