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May 01, 2023

Pro Bono Spotlight: Alex Monsalve and Maria Chavez

ABA Immigration Justice Project Pro Bono Attorney Alex Monsalve and volunteer Mentor Attorney, Maria Chavez

ABA Immigration Justice Project Pro Bono Attorney Alex Monsalve and volunteer Mentor Attorney, Maria Chavez

The Commission on Immigration (COI) extends a warm thank you to pro bono attorney Alex Monsalve, founder of Alex Monsalve Law Firm, PC, and his volunteer mentor, Maria Chavez, a Senior Associate Attorney with Jacobs & Schlesinger LLP, who successfully obtained asylum for a client in an emotional court hearing. 

Alex volunteered to provide a client with direct representation in a case with the ABA Immigration Justice Project (IJP), the COI’s project in San Diego, CA.  It was Alex’s first time taking an asylum case.  Alex recalls telling IJP “I don’t have much experience with asylum, but will you guide me?”  IJP assured him that he would receive mentorship and support throughout his representation, and paired Alex with Maria Chavez, an experienced immigration attorney and active IJP volunteer.  In addition to volunteering to provide direct representation in past immigration cases with IJP, Maria donated her time as a volunteer mentor, using her expertise to guide other IJP pro bono attorneys.

Alex’s client had been subject to multiple beatings and attempted murder as a result of his political opinions in his home country.  His close family members were tortured and killed.  Alex approached his client’s case with dedication and compassion, and worked with Maria to perfect the asylum application.

Alex and Maria made a formidable team.  Volunteering as a mentor attorney was “significantly less time involvement” than volunteering to directly represent a client, Maria said.  She helped Alex with the “nuts and bolts” of immigration law, such as explaining what to expect at a Master Calendar Hearing, sharing sample exhibits and index lists, and explaining best practices to prepare for an individual hearing.  Alex interviewed the client, collected evidence, wrote a trial brief, and prepared for and appeared at trial.  Maria “guided me through the initial process of filing an application, taught me about potential bars to asylum, and showed me how to file for employment authorization for my client,” said Alex.  She reviewed his legal brief and provided corrections and edits.  “She was a great mentor,” said Alex.  “Any time I had questions I would ask her.” 

Maria recommends volunteering as a mentor attorney to other experienced immigration lawyers.  “It is our collective goal to help the immigrant community.  One great way to do that is to make sure advocates are well-trained.

Alex and Maria’s hard work paid off.  At the asylum merits hearing, the immigration judge stated that he had read through the trial brief and evidence that Alex submitted, and indicated that he did not need to hear a direct examination of Alex’s client.  After a cross-examination from the government attorney, the judge said he did not have any credibility concerns with Alex’s client and he granted the asylum request.  The government attorney confirmed on the record that he would not be filing an appeal. 

“Welcome to America,” the judge said.  Alex’s client was overwhelmed with emotion.  He thanked the judge for his decision, and the judge replied: “You don’t have to thank me.  Thank your lawyer.”  In that moment, Alex said, “everybody was crying. . . . I am so grateful to IJP for what I learned.  I couldn’t hold my emotions the day of the hearing.  I was crying.  Everybody was crying.  It was super, super emotional.  These are the experiences that make life worth living.  Thank you to IJP for the opportunity.