Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., highlighted New York – Justice For Our Neighbors’ attorney T. J. Mills for his outstanding work. Here is their interview with him:
We thank TJ for sharing his exceptional skills and passion. His personal sense of duty to clients strengthens the foundation of our network.
Why do you do this work?
The clients’ stories are fascinating and inspiring. I’m awed by the courage it must take to throw your whole lot into an unknown place. To win asylum, to reunite a family, to help someone begin a new life invokes our most fundamental human rights. It’s a privilege to be part of an effort that aims to protect those rights.
When I attended college, hundreds of orphans at that time were fleeing Central America. A friend asked me to join a tutoring program to help out the Salvadoran kids who spoke little English. I hung out with a 12-year-old, Samuel. It began as formal tutoring but we ended up playing soccer each week. The chance to use my limited Spanish in a way that helped Samuel was meaningful for me – to help Samuel to find some stability after a lifetime of war was deeply satisfying.
Until Samuel, I knew little of the war that had killed his family and his cousins. The same tutoring program invited me to work in Central America with the International Organization for Migration. There I helped to resettle refugees as they crossed the borders. I could not imagine a greater privilege than reuniting people and helping them to start new lives.
What do you love about your job?
I love JFON’s commitment to serve the most vulnerable of clients in the very neighborhoods where they live. I know of no other agency that turns church basements into legal rights clinics and then provides full representation. The idea is to meet clients in a safe place with trained lay volunteers who provide paralegal help, interpretation, and hospitality.
I work in New York, New York, which is a city filled with immigrants, where immigrants are valued and a deep part of our culture and heritage. Immigrants are an essential part of our past, our present, and our future. I love being part of that. I’m proud that JFON ventures into neighborhoods whose blocks contain the most diverse populations in the world.
I love my job, not so much because of the interest and complexities of the law, but because of its ability to reunite people and to save lives. I believe that all of my clients deserve safety and should be treated with the dignity that every human deserves. Through our JFON clinics, we achieve those goals, and, for me, it’s a privilege to do that work.
I find that people who work with immigrants tend to have great empathy and respect for their clients. There’s a premise in a book I read years ago, Coyotes by Ted Conover, that