The Pele Law Offices of Janet Smith Esq., a sponsor of the Taste of Annandale, helps local immigrants who have escaped forced marriages, brutal husbands, or dangerous situations in their home countries stay in the United States.
While Janet Smith focuses on immigration law. Many of her clients are also dealing with poverty and other problems. “We have to deal with the whole client, not just the immigration case,” she says. “We do our best to guide them to get care for all of their needs.”
Now that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is being phased out by the Trump Administration, Smith is trying to find another remedy to help people with DACA status avoid deportation. Depending on the reason they left their home county, they could be eligible for asylum or temporary protective status or might have an employer willing to sponsor them, she says.
If Congress doesn’t act, the government could start deporting people with DACA status as early as March. These people were brought here as children; they had no choice. They have jobs, pay taxes, and are trying to be productive members of the community, she says. “Now all of that is in jeopardy.”
Many of them are from Honduras and El Salvador, Smith says. “Those countries are more dangerous than anything you can imagine.” Many of them are were brought here as young children are now in their 20s. “They don’t know any country other than the U.S.,” she says.
Smith employs a paralegal from Peru who speaks Spanish and a legal assistant who speaks Creole, who can speak to Smith’s Haitian clients, most of whom are in detention facilities and are fighting deportation.
When Smith opened her law practice in 2011, she started seeing clients trying to attain asylum. “The stories clients tell you are horror stories; the kind of things you only hear about on TV. There are places where people can’t walk out of their house safely,” she says.
Some of her clients had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) and fear their daughters could be forced to undergo the practice. She’s had clients who were sold into marriage to men who beat them so severely they had to be hospitalized.
“It grabs your heart,” Smith says of the clients who come to her desperate to stay in the United States. She decided to specialize in immigration cases to “help people stay here and build a life for themselves and their children.”