SALT LAKE CITY — Holy Cross Ministries’ first Legal Service Award Luncheon, which honored three local providers of legal immigration services, drew a sold-out crowd to The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on May 31.
The luncheon honored Gonzalez Law, USA as the Philanthropic Firm of the Year and Comunidades Unidas as the Innovative Agency of the Year. Alyssa Williams, an attorney who for more than 10 years has worked in Catholic Community Services’ immigration program, was presented with the Moroney Legal Service Award.
The award is named after Holy Cross Sister Kathleen Moroney, who “created the Legal Immigration Program at Holy Cross Ministries because she recognized the gap in available legal immigration services,” said John Kirsling, Holy Cross Ministries’ interim CEO in his introductory remarks at the luncheon.
That gap remains, said Kirsling, who served as Master of Ceremonies for the event. “According to the American Immigration Council, one in 12 Utah residents is an immigrant, and another 1 in 12 residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. We know that there is a long road ahead for the immigrants in our community and that we cannot do this work on our own.”
The luncheon recognized “some outstanding members of the legal community who exemplify our vision for just, compassionate, sustainable, and inclusive communities,” Kirsling said.
Accepting the Philanthropic Firm of the Year award, Marlene Gonzalez of Gonzalez Law USA said she loves doing pro bono work.
“I love to give of my time because time is given to us. It can be taken away at any time … and I think it’s best spent in service to our family, our friends and strangers from other lands,” she said.
The goal of Comunidades Unidas, which serves more than 5,000 people a year, is to keep families healthy and together, said executive director Luis Garza in his remarks after accepting the Innovative Agency of the Year award. Immigrants “are our neighbors, our classmates, our fellow churchgoers. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion,” he said.
The Moroney Legal Service Award was created to recognize “a legal immigration professional who has demonstrated a sincere commitment to an underserved community and exemplifies Sister Kathleen Moroney’s dedication and spirit of service,” Kirsling said, and Williams said she was honored to be the award’s recipient.
“I’m very flattered to even be mentioned in the same breath as Sister [Kathleen] since she has such a long record of not just service to the immigrant community but to so many communities as part of the Sisters of the Holy Cross,” Williams said.
Sr. Kathleen, who holds a law degree from the University of Notre Dame and a degree in business from Ohio State University, worked as an attorney for the Generalate of the Sisters of the Holy Cross before serving in parish ministry for two years in Brazil. After 10 years serving with her congregation’s leadership, she studied immigration law and worked at Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. She then came to Salt Lake City, where she started Holy Cross Ministries’ Immigration Department. Last year she retired and moved to Maryland. She returned to Salt Lake City for the luncheon, at which she was the keynote speaker.
As did the award recipients, Sr. Kathleen commended the cooperation within the Utah legal community, and urged those present to think of innovative ways to handle immigration cases.
“I think the work we do is a sacred work,” she added, and acknowledged that those who work in immigration law for many years can’t do it without the support of their families or, in her case, her religious community.
“We also can’t do it without one another. All of you here are what give us the energy to stay in this for the long haul,” she said.
More work needs to be done because of the anti-immigrant laws that are being passed, she said, so those who champion immigrants need to figure out how to enact changes and address anti-immigrant attitudes.
The U.S. Bill of Rights states that people are endowed with certain inalienable rights, she said, then asked whether “what is happening out of Washington – is it giving life? Is it making people free? Is it allowing them to pursue happiness, real happiness?”