As a student in Mitchell’s Immigration Law Clinic, Joel Anderson was handed a case that he describes as “heart-wrenching”: A father, and illegal immigrant, about to be deported, jeopardizing his young daughter’s cancer treatment. How did Anderson react? Quickly.
Omar Pineda was working construction in Bemidji, paying for his five-year-old daughter Valeria’s leukemia treatment. Although Valeria is a U.S. citizen, Pineda is not. He was living and working in the United States illegally and, consequently, was detained and preparing for deportation back to Mexico. With Pineda in Mexico, Valeria’s treatment would have to end.
“They were a family that was right on the brink of disaster,” Anderson says of Pineda, his wife, and two children. “You don’t see that too often.”
Anderson worked to get Pineda out of jail and the case continued, effectively delaying his deportation. He then researched Valeria’s leukemia and her treatment and got a letter from her doctor attesting that she wouldn’t receive sufficient medical care in Mexico. On Pineda’s behalf, Anderson made a request for deferred action to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, contending that if Pineda returned to Mexico, Valeria would have to go as well, and, most likely, die.
He was successful. Pineda was granted deferred action, which means his case will be reviewed yearly, but he can work legally in the United States and stay with his daughter as she fights cancer. “When I learned that Omar got his deferred action, I got a huge smile on my face,” Anderson says. “Omar was and is extremely grateful…. He mentioned that he hopes to be able to pay us back one day. For me, the experience I received from this case is payment enough—and the good result we were able to get for a loving father and a little girl who needs her dad was an extra bonus.”
Pineda wasn’t the only person Anderson helped while in the Immigration Law Clinic. All Immigration Law Clinic students are required to attend a Master Calendar hearing, where they screen immigrants facing deportation to find possible forms of relief. Anderson says the process can be “depressing,” because there are so many people who cannot be helped. But, he says, “sometimes it’s amazing because you catch people before they slip through the cracks.”
And that’s just what happened. As he was screening detainees, he asked one of the usual questions, “Have you been a victim of a crime?” The woman told him she had been shot and had helped police with their investigation, which immediately made a good case for a U visa. Anderson got the woman’s case stayed, so she wouldn’t be deported and quickly prepared her application for the visa, which included receiving a certification from the police. Her visa application was approved, and she now has U.S. legal status and authorization to work. “She was right on the edge,” Anderson says. “We were lucky that the timing worked out, and she wasn’t sent home.”
Anderson enrolled in Mitchell’s Immigration Law Clinic for two semesters. The experience was good training for his future legal career. He graduated in May 2011 and will be partnering with his brother in a new firm—Anderson Immigration Law.