Working with immigrants is a mission that brings Barbara Graham a great deal of satisfaction, along with challenges.
Though her work advising immigrant families on their legal rights occasionally results in hate mail, she said, she’s committed to her mission as program director for Catholic Charities Legal Services for Immigrants.
“It’s never frightened me and stopped me from doing what I’m doing,” Graham said. “If anything, it makes me want to dig in my heels harder and do it more.”
The program keeps immigrant families together and helps those victimized by domestic violence and crime. It also represents asylum seekers unable to return to their home countries for fear of persecution.
Graham, who’s directed the program since 1999, said she’s learned a lot about what’s important in life from working with her clients.
“You’ll find they’re honest, kind, strong, and wonderful,” she said. “Family is very important. We can all learn a lesson from the way they treat each other.”
The bonds of family among her immigrant clients are inspiring to see, Graham said.
“It’s wonderful to watch families backing each other up,” she said. “If you see the way immigrants treat each other – there’s always someone to help you take care of the children, or if you’ve got financial troubles and you’ve lost your job. People help each other out in a way that gives you hope for humanity.”
Sometimes Graham is challenged about the work she does by those unfamiliar with immigrant issues. But those that have been involved with trying to help an immigrant typically understand much more, she said.
“Once they get involved because one of their kids has married someone who’s an immigrant and they see the obstacles they face, then they get it,” she said.
There also are plenty of members of the legal community that “get” LSI’s mission as well, she said, and volunteer their time through pro bono hours.
“Without them, we couldn’t serve nearly as many people,” she said. “It really gives you faith in your colleagues in the law profession. We get people from law firms that my clients could never afford. And it’s not perfunctory.”
– Neil Bartlett