AILA members are sharing their first person accounts of life and work at the moment – if you’re an AILA member, please email your 400-800 word submission to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. Thank you for all you do!
On March 10, 2020, Saenz-Rodriguez & Associates, P.C. (SRA Law) turned 25 years old. We’re a true mom and pop law firm, established by myself and my law partner, George (who also happens to be my life partner). We are fortunate to be living the “American Dream”. We like to say that George was manufactured in Cuba, but produced in the United States. His parents fled the Castro Regime in 1968 with their two teenage boys and his mom was 7 months pregnant. His name is George because when he was born, the nurse asked his dad what they were going to name him and he proudly said “George” in broken English. The nurse responded “Do you mean Jorge?” and he quickly pulled out a dollar bill and showed her George Washington. “This is America, we want him to be George like the President”. In a pure twist of fate, I came out of law school and became a Judicial Law Clerk for seven Immigration Judges at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in Harlingen, Texas. George graduated from law school three years later and in 1995, we started our own firm with no money, big law school debt, but chock full of determination to do our part to change the world for the better.
So you see, SRA Law is all that we are. It has framed who we are as small business owners, who we are as parents, and really what our legacy will be long after we are gone. We are not a high dollar firm, we serve a community that needs the ability to pay over time. We are a firm that does at least 300 hours of pro bono work a year, always operating under the theory that as long as we can pay the bills, we simultaneously build our “Karma bank” through our pro bono work. We take the cases no one else will take and we fully embrace the fact that we are in the business of giving people hope. That’s the cornerstone of who we are at SRA Law.
And then, one day, shortly after celebrating SRA Law’s 25th birthday, things start to change. We began to learn about COVID-19. The West Coast was hit hard, but we continued to watch from afar as if it could not happen here, that Texas was immune. But then the outbreak spread like wildfire. Our local schools were shut down and kids were transitioning to e-learning platforms. Our son’s graduation from Seton Hall University was cancelled meaning he will now have to finish the semester and apply for grad school from quarantine in his apartment in New Jersey. On March 16th, our office began to transition to working remotely and on March 23rd, we were ordered to “shelter in place” by our local government. Shelter in place? Seriously? Our courts are still open, our deadlines are still active and we have to find a way to continue the work.
So much uncertainty exists every single day. How will we get new business? How will we make payroll? How will we protect the people we serve – both our staff and our clients? How are we supposed protect our own family when we still have to go to court and potentially expose ourselves to a pandemic? Most questions remain unanswered but we are learning to adjust each and every day. We are applying for disaster assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA), bringing still more questions to the forefront about loans, like which do we qualify for and what do they cover? At the end of the day, the biggest question for firms like ours is will we survive COVID-19?
At SRA Law, our answer is YES and not just YES but HELL YES! Do we have all the answers? No, of course not. Do we know how long this will last and the ultimate impact on our firm? No. What we do know is that based on the nature of the work we do, immigration lawyers are among the most resilient and resourceful people in the legal profession. As members of AILA, we have created a strong community of lawyers working together to provide the resources and support for everyone from the solo firms, to the mom and pop shops to the big law folks who are all affected by COVID-19.
We are optimistic, but we also know the reality and recognize that these are dark times. As long as we continue to remind ourselves and our colleagues that we are all in this together, we will find that light at the end of the tunnel and emerge together, profoundly changed by the journey.