Staff Spotlight: Martha Orellana

Meet Martha Orellana, Administrative Assistant at Social Justice Collaborative’s main Oakland office.

Martha saw the struggles her parents and family members faced during their immigration process. As a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, she understands how stressful this can be for our clients. After her parents were naturalized, she recalled that moment as one of the happiest while growing up. Seeing these struggles firsthand inspired Martha to become a paralegal and help the immigrant community.

Martha came on board with SJC as the Administrative Assistant since June 2017. Now that she also works directly with clients, she feels that her work is extremely fulfilling. She shared one of her favorite moments with one of them.

“I’ve mostly connected with this particular client because everytime she comes into the office to see me, she feels endearing to me and gives me a hug,” she said. “I feel very connected to her and her family because of the hardships her and her daughter endured. I’m a mother with three kids, so I can only imagine what she went through.”

Martha enjoys learning about the various legal steps in order for clients to obtain legal status in the United States. Some of Martha’s work also include assisting on the filing process in client’s cases, managing undergraduate interns, and wearing many hats overall.

Currently, Martha is in the process of transitioning from Administrative Assistant to Paralegal. “With Nancy Arévalo as our newest Staff Attorney, she didn’t have a paralegal to assist her, so she offered me to become her paralegal,” she said. “I decided to take the offer since I’m already doing legal work for our clients. This is going to further my career on helping immigrant communities, and I strive on continuing to do so for a very long time.”

Staff Spotlight: Annel Becerra

Meet Annel Becerra, Paralegal Supervisor at Social Justice Collaborative’s main Oakland office.

Annel’s passion for immigrant communities originated from being an immigrant firsthand. Born in Mexico, Annel came to the United States at a very young age. She spent her childhood in Santa Barbara, where she faced disparities on resources and diversity for immigrants and people of color. “Growing up, I could see how unjust and extreme the disparities in income and resources were,” said Annel. Having this experience growing up motivated her to study and major in Legal Studies and Chicano Studies at UC Berkeley.

During her time as an undergraduate, Annel came on board with SJC as a work-study student. She also volunteered at Centro Legal de Raza’s clinics—focusing on employment and housing rights, along with East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (and other nonprofits) providing support for undocumented youth. After graduation, Annel was hired on as a full-time paralegal with SJC, and eventually got promoted as a paralegal supervisor. Some of her favorite things as a paralegal supervisor include passing on her knowledge to her team of paralegals and interns along with hosting weekly trainings. “It’s fun to interact with my team during these trainings because seeing them engaged and understand what’s going on is extremely encouraging to me,” she said. “When I first started out, I learned how to do my work simply just by replicating other things. So, it’s really refreshing to see the progress we have made in providing more resources and support for the staff and interns in order to succeed and do well.”

Besides training and supervising her team, Annel works with many clients applying for asylum and legal status. One of her clients wasn’t able to go back to his home country for over ten years. Now, he can finally go back to visit his family, as a Legal Permanent Resident, with his wife and children due to his I-601 waiver and consular visa being granted. “The idea of families finally spending time together after years of separation makes this work rewarding for me,” said Annel.

Staff Spotlight: George MacDonald

Meet George MacDonald, Equal Justice Works’ justice Americorps Attorney at Social Justice Collaborative’s main Oakland office.

Before working at SJC, George went to Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, where he focused mostly on immigration law. He also worked on many unaccompanied minor issues and volunteered at family detention centers and Catholic Charities. After taking his bar examination, he flew over to Guatemala and worked with Guatemalan youth for a few months. “I always knew I wanted to work in immigration law, especially with children,” he said.

He joined SJC in December 2016 as the Equal Justice Works justice AmeriCorps Attorney to provide legal representation to all children in removal proceedings by representing them. As part of the justice Americorps programGeorge is one of 46 legal professionals working to represent immigrant children who arrived to the United States without a parent or guardian. He represents unaccompanied minors fleeing extreme violence and poverty in their home countries and hoping to obtain legal status in the United States. All of the unaccompanied minors he represented are native Mam or Spanish speakers that came from El Savador, Guatemala, and Mexico. His passion for helping immigrant children not only came from his time in Guatemala, but the fact that legal aid is not provided for everyone. “Most people cannot afford to hire an attorney, especially when it comes to children. Most of them do not have a right to an attorney, and the statistics are increasingly alarming. Around 90% of children that are not represented are ordered removed. That is why I represent them to reverse that,” said George.

George’s work doesn’t just revolve around representing children and successfully helping them gain legal status. He made it a priority to also connect with his clients and seeing them grow. He shared a moment about an undocumented client that he first connected with when he was just starting out in January of this year.

“When I first met with this client, she barely talked to anyone in the office and was distressed. Now, she comes into the office and says hi to everyone and makes jokes and laughs with us! It was really empowering to see her evolve and acknowledge that we are fighting for native Mam speaking clients like her.”

Moments like that with his clients are the main reasons why George enjoys his work. “It has been the most gratifying for me to see the positive changes that impacted their lives.”