Pro Bono Lawyers Win Legal Permanent Residence for Mother of Air Force Sergeant

July 1, 2015

Just in time for the patriotic celebrations taking place across the country, Voice of America featured a story about how pro bono lawyers from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson won legal permanent residence for Zoila, the mother of a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force.

Zoila encountered the Fried Frank lawyers at PS 146, where the firm runs a legal clinic through VOLS' School-based Children's Project.

Although Zoila has lived in the United States for 30 years, raised her children here, and has a son who is serving this country, the U.S. government had twice rejected her applications for legal permanent residence. With the expert guidance of Elizabeta Markuci, VOLS' Immigration Project Director, Fried Frank mounted a third effort using "parole-in-place." At that time, parole-in-place was an informal discretionary policy used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect immediate family members of military personnel from removal on a case-by-case basis – and the only known successful cases were for spouses.

While Zoila's case was pending, DHS issued a policy memorandum, which formalized the policy and clarified that it could be used to protect parents of U.S. military personnel. This pathway to legal permanent residence was so obscure, however, that the government officer deciding Zoila's case had never heard of it and was poised to deny her application for permanent residence a third time. The Fried Frank lawyers immediately got the officer a copy of his own agency's internal policy memorandum, and shortly thereafter, she finally won legal permanent residence status.

After thirty years of living with fear and disappointment, Zoila and her family are thrilled.

"We never before had attempted a military parole-in-place application, and we wouldn't have been able to do it without Ms. Markuci at VOLS guiding us each step of the way,” said Jennifer Colyer, Special Counsel at Fried Frank.

Ms. Markuci added, "The lawyers from Fried Frank are pro bono vanguards. They took on a case where there was little precedent. Even six months after the new policy protecting parents of military personnel was official, the USCIS officer was unaware of it and was ready to deny the application. Fried Frank's zealous advocacy made all the difference."

In addition to Ms. Colyer, the team at Fried Frank included Sam Mathias, Litigation Associate, and Stella Drevina, Pro Bono Coordinator. VOLS thanks and congratulates Fried Frank and its dedicated volunteers for this victory.

Happy Fourth of July!