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Advocate Helps Immigrants Make Way Through Red Tape

Evelyn Sabando feels blessed by successes on job


January 19, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Courier-Post. All rights reserved.

Last week, immigrant advocate Evelyn Sabando went to church and heard a whisper from a nearby pew. "Evelyn, you did my paperwork 14 years ago!' It came from one of her very first clients.

It was a refrain the counselor hears often, and one that has kept Sabando going through the bureaucratic maze of immigration law.

She came to the United States herself in 1987 looking for work, and over 14 years moved up from translator for the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice to senior advocate, doling out advice on citizenship and representing immigrants and the indigent in court.

The last two years have been some of the most challenging for the advocate:

How did 9/11 affect your job?

At the time of Sept. 11, the administration was prepared to offer a path to legal residency, and then everything stopped. It was really disappointing.

Have you been getting a lot of questions about President Bush's latest plan to ease the immigration law?

A lot of phone calls. People are so concerned, confused. The main problem is that what they hear on the Spanish news they don't understand it the same way. We have to explain to them that it is not a general amnesty, and it is not going to apply to everyone.

Is keeping up with the laws the hardest part of your job?

No, we have a good support team that keeps us up to date. It's dealing with the immigration system, the frustration of not getting through the system as fast as we can. Some cases take longer than two years, and not all of them have outcomes that we would like.

What is your most inspiring story?

We had a good-news one just today with this Mexican national who arrived in 1994. She has two U.S.-citizen children and is the wife of a permanent resident, but her case was denied because of the wrong advice of a public notary. We took the case two years ago. We just got news today of final approval: She will be able to stay and work here.

She hasn't seen her family (in Mexico) since 1994. The first thing she said when I called was, "I am going to go and see my mother, my country.' Isn't that great?

How would you describe that feeling when you made that phone call?

I would say I feel blessed. Sometimes you get to the point where there is so much frustration, and then when it comes to this point and you see the results, it is a blessing.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

A mentor would help; volunteer at our center.

What kind of traits would help someone do well?

Patience is the main one. Organization skills, critical thinking. Even in my own language in Spanish, I need to find the right terminology to use so they can understand me exactly.

What kind of personalities would not do so well?

Someone who is interested in making a lot of money quickly. This is nonprofit, and if you are here for the money, you are in the wrong place.

Reach Sue Robinson at (856) 486-2460 or


TITLE: Senior accredited immigration advocate

AGE: 39

RESIDENCE: Sicklerville

COMPANY: Camden Center for Law and Social Justice

JOB: Assists immigrants in getting legal U.S. status, both with the paperwork and in the courts. She has more than 50 pending cases right now.

TENURE: 14 years

JOB PATH: Graduate of University of Puerto Rico with a B.S. in business administration. She arrived in U.S. in 1987. Sabando became a translator, then an advocate for the Office of Immigration and Refuge Services until it consolidated its immigration advocacy program with the Camden Center in 2000. She also took classes to become accredited with the Board of Immigration Appeals and must update her accreditation every three years.

SALARY RANGE: $20,000 for entry level, to $40,000 for people with more experience.

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