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Even as Latinx Heritage Month has come to a close, we continue to uplift Latinx voices year-round.  This month, we are spotlighting our Immigration Project Associate Pamela Mercado Garcia (she/her/ella). Pamela works with our Immigration and Asylum team. In 1994, NCLR was the first national LGBTQ organization to launch an Immigration Project. As part of this program, the work that Pam does daily helps to carry on the life-saving work that this program has always focused on, including advancing immigration law and assisting thousands of LGBTQ immigrants in obtaining legal status in the U.S. 

We are excited to celebrate Pam’s story with you: 

What is your background before joining NCLR?

In 2019, I started working with Michigan United’s team as an Immigrants Rights Organizer. I conducted community outreach programming through training and educational presentations. I kept constant communication with our volunteer base, provided translation of documents, and interpretation of workshops and events. Because of my oral and written fluency in English and Spanish, I interacted with the immigrant community in Michigan. 

After moving to the Bay Area in 2021, I worked for the Immigration Center for Women and Children as their Intake Coordinator assessing people’s basic eligibility for immigration legal services, including the U Visa, the Special Juvenile Visa, and adjustment of status, citizenship, or VAWA. Finally, in June 2022 – during Pride month! – I joined NCLR. 

What brought you to this position? 

Advocating for immigrants’ rights has been a crucial part of my life since I moved to the United States at a young age. From personal experience, I understand the hardships that undocumented immigrants face in this country since I was undocumented for several years myself. Thankfully, I was able to obtain my residency as a derivative of my mother who was a victim of domestic violence and qualified for VAWA. 

I believe my previous work with nonprofits, and my personal experience as part of the LQBTIA+ and the immigrant community led me to NCLR. As a bisexual woman and a former undocumented immigrant, I’m incredibly passionate about assisting the LGBTQIA+ undocumented immigrant community. From the stories I’ve heard, I’ve learned that these individuals undergo high levels of marginalization and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. I’ve also learned about the barriers to information and access to resources. That’s why I decided that I wanted to be part of an organization like NCLR – one which helps people get the legal assistance and resources they need and deserve.

What does a typical day look like to you?

A typical work day for me usually starts with a cup of coffee and a declaration that needs to be translated for one of our client’s cases. The work that I do usually changes day by day, depending on the needs of the Immigration Project here at NCLR and the clients’ cases approaching a deadline. 

My tasks usually involve translating documents, updating the clients’ court hearing date list, referring people that are seeking services to other organizations, logging information into our system, meeting with clients, assisting with filling out forms and doing research for country conditions. I also work directly with our Immigration Project Director Noemi Calonje and our Supervising Helpline Attorney Ming Wong. 

What is your favorite part about the work that you get to do? 

My favorite part about the work I get to do is meeting new people from different walks of life. I love interacting with clients and learning about their stories and journeys. I appreciate that in my role I get to assist them with their immigration cases and that I get to be part of that process with them. 

What inspires you to push through tough cases or long days?

To me, knowing that the work that I do will affect the livelihood and safety of our clients sustains me on long days. We work to provide legal services to LGBTQIA+ individuals who are fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. By doing so, we not only acknowledge their struggles but also assist them in a process that will change their lives and will allow them to be able to enjoy life with dignity and security. This way they can reside in the U.S. and work here legally, while also being protected against the violence that they faced and could continue to face if they were forced to return to their home countries. 

How would you describe the connection between LGBTQ rights and immigrant justice? 

I believe that immigrants’ justice and LGBTQIA+ rights are intertwined because we as people are intersectional. We are part of both communities, and thus, we face hardships and discrimination established through phobias generated by hatred, ignorance, and fear of heteronormative western ideologies. LGBTQIA+ undocumented immigrants that are BIPOC are among the most marginalized groups of people in the U.S. 

Therefore, it is imperative to consider them when discussing LGBTQIA+, immigration rights, and justice advocacy work. LGBTQIA+ BIPOC undocumented immigrants are deserving of a seat at the table because it is important to make their stories and their needs visible to the public, as they are most of the time underrepresented within our communities. 

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