On Friday, April 18 2014, one of Justice For Our Neighbor’s own stood before a federal judge and took the oath of US citizenship.
Grisell Herrera, born in Havana, Cuba, has been the Office Manager with JFON since December 2009. In that role, Grisell spends much of her time interacting with clients. JFON Attorney Brynne Howard describes Grisell as “exceptionally conscientious and detailed, welcoming, gracious and the kind of person who – on daily basis - goes out of her way to assist people.”
In celebration of Grisell’s accomplishment, we’re sharing a little about her immigration story.
Q: What was your academic and professional background before coming to the US?
A: I have a BA in English Language but never worked in a position directly connected to my studies. I found a position at the Department of Information in the Ministry of Foreign Trade. I took courses (including commercial negotiation training at the World Trade Organization in Geneva) to become a specialist of trade policy. I was transferred to the Asian Division of the Ministry in charge of bilateral trade relations between Cuba and Japan, where I worked for over 20 years. I was appointed Commercial Counselor at the Commercial Office in Tokyo where I spent 6 years promoting trade between the two countries.
Q: Why did you decide to come to the United States?
A: I came to the US in September 2008. Having had the opportunity to live outside my home country, I could see that Cuba’s current economic system has impoverished our country. Our “free” education and health system has a high cost to the people of Cuba because Cuban people lack basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I felt very disappointed because my points of view and principles were far from what I was required to think, say and do.
Also, I had most of my family living abroad, including my partner who had come to the US years before. That’s why I made the decision to cross the Canadian/US border as a refugee and eventually obtained my legal permanent residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Q: What do enjoy about your work with JFON?
A: At the time I applied for a job at JFON, I had also applied for a job with an organization that works with immigrant victims of domestic violence. As a woman, I was very enthusiastic about the domestic violence job, but God put JFON in my path because JFON scheduled my interview first and as soon as I was approved, I cancelled my appointment with the other agency and started to work with the JFON attorneys.
I love to learn and working with immigration law has allowed me to learn many things. I have learned about the law, but I have also learned about human suffering. The most important thing has been the opportunity to meet those people who come to JFON looking for help because they face a daily danger of being deported and seeing their families split apart. It’s heartbreaking to see.
Q: Why was it important to you to become a US citizen?
A: It’s very hard to leave behind your country and your roots. In my case, I think it was hard because I’m not young and I had to start a new life very far from my family. I wasn’t able to visit my family, even to visit my daughter, who was only able to come to the US last year. I’ve faced a new challenge every day but those challenges have made me stronger.
I believe it should be the main goal of all people who come to work and live in the US to become fully integrated participants in this society. It is a way for me to show respect for a country which has welcomed me as one of its own. I feel very proud to become a US citizen and to have the right to vote in democratic elections.
JFON thanks Grisell for her work on behalf of immigrants and we welcome her with arms wide open as a new US citizen!