We’re re-featuring Melina’s story as a part of our #GivingTuesdayNow campaign. To support LSA families this #GivingTuesdayNow, please click here.
Back in the summer of 2018, we first shared that Melina Gonzalez, LSA’s Immigration Outreach Coordinator, spent time at the US/Mexico border volunteering as a translator. Since then, Gonzalez has not gone back just once, but four times to partner with a pro bono law firm in representing detained individuals.
As the times have changed, so has the work. While once able to meet with clients face-to-face in Laredo, Texas, now all interviews and hearings are done via phone and video.
“The people who need help the most are those at the border,” said Melina. “The way we work may have changed, but the importance of the work hasn’t.”
Melina admits that the work is hard and painful – the days are long, often interviewing families from 8 a.m. until 6:30 at night, only to go right into case discussions until midnight. She is tasked with staying neutral, and not showing any affection toward the women and families they are interviewing – something that would challenge anyone.
“You hear some terrible, terrible things – things that you cannot imagine,” said Melina. “Even with all of that, it’s the ability to bring dignity and respect to each story that makes me return.”
In fact, Melina’s ability to connect with clients under these difficult circumstances has been well recognized. One lawyer that she worked with most recently commented, “It was apparent from the start that Melina cares deeply about this work, and is very skilled at it…[Interviewing clients] is a difficult task that requires the right balance of distance and empathy. Melina stuck the right balance.”
When asked what she would want people to know about her experience, Melina simply said, “What isn’t thought about is the impact this has on the future – the children and families affected, the huge mental health crisis from these experiences. This is a global crisis, not just a crisis at the border.”
We continue to thank Melina for her dedication and service to help families both here in East Harlem and Laredo.