Gaudy Garcia has been CLINIC’s Southeast Fellow with Hispanic Services Council for almost a year, but she has been working in immigration since 2001.
“I got into it after I graduated from Mercy College (in New York). There was an ad that I responded to for an immigration attorney who was looking for a paralegal. I sent my résumé not thinking anything of it and she called me back! She interviewed me, said she was looking for someone with experience, but she liked me so much that she hired me. She said, 'you know what, I'm going to give you a chance, I think I can work with you, I really love your personality- let's try this.' That's how I fell in love with immigration.”
Many aspects of her first immigration job ended up having a long-term effect on her career, but none more so than her former boss, Robin Bikkal.
“She is an activist. She is all for immigrant rights and she's on the front lines. She's this little lady -- I think she's five feet tall -- but you know who she is because she's not afraid to stand up for what she believes is right. She really advocates for her clients. She's very vocal and involved with so many organizations in New York. She's the real deal. When she says she's there to help you, she's actually there to help you.”
Despite enjoying her job in New York, Garcia and her husband decided to move to Florida in 2006 to raise their kids. Garcia continued working as a paralegal and even worked in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Tampa. She eventually applied for the Fellow’s position at Hispanic Services Council. She was hired in June 2016 and received her accreditation by October of that same year.
Although Garcia’s commitment to immigration has never wavered, it did take her a while to transition from the role of a paralegal to a DOJ accredited representative.
“I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. That's the mentality you have when you work with attorneys. The client comes in, meets with the attorney, the attorney lets them know what benefits they have, if any, and then once the contract is signed between the attorney and client, everything then goes to the paralegal. Well, this is different. I'm there, I'm meeting the client and letting them know. When you're programmed to do things a certain way, It's hard to get out of that rhythm.”
Garcia credits her project director, Gloria Avila, with breaking her free of her old habits.
“She would go, ‘You're accredited now, you can make decisions, I know you can. You know this.’ One day it clicked. I was like, ‘You know what, I do know what I'm doing over here! Yeah, okay!’ So I kind of came out of that. I definitely feel more confident. Also, the clients’ feedback that we get, ‘Thank you, Ms. Garcia,’ that's confirmation for me.”
The notion that she and her colleagues are there to provide for the community has been the driving force behind her dedication to immigration work. As Garcia puts it, “if you are not into helping and not really a people person, this is not the career for you.”
The CLINIC Fellows program aims to increase the reach of immigration legal services and public education in underserved areas by funding additional full-time legal representatives that work with select CLINIC affiliates. Currently it targets eight states in the Southeast, in response to the heightened need for services in that region. For more information, visit https://cliniclegal.org/clinicfellows.