Attorney Jose Moreno recently accepted a pro bono immigration matter through Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.
Moreno is the managing partner for Moreno Law Group that specializes in immigration and nationality law.
His client, Cesar Zelaya, was a national from El Salvador who lived without proper immigration status in the United States for almost 30 years.
Zelaya had a patchwork of temporary employment authorizations that eventually fell apart about 2007, landing him in immigration court with deportation proceedings.
Although Zelaya applied for asylum on his entry to the U.S., his case was pending for decades and eventually was denied.
In the past three years, he became a person-of-interest to the Department of Homeland Security and deportation proceedings began.
Moreno attended his client's master calendar removal hearing at the Orlando immigration court and subsequently filed a Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, also known as NACARA, application with Immigration Judge Kevin Chapman.
The relief act applies to certain individuals from Guatemala, El Salvador and former Soviet bloc countries who entered the U.S. and applied for asylum within a statutory time period.
Unfortunately, this type of relief is very rare and sometimes unknown to practitioners.
In June, Moreno attended Zelaya's individual removal hearing in the Orlando immigration court and won.
The court awarded Zelaya his legal permanent residence status and the government attorneys waived all rights to appeal.
Zelaya received his physical green card under the relief act on July 8.
Moreno described his client's reaction to the ruling.
"He was literally speechless. I would be, too, if I had waited 30 years for something I never thought possible. We were very happy for him as an organization — good times all around," Moreno said.
Moreno also expressed his own gratitude.
"Thank you for the opportunity to change the life of this sweet and hardworking man. Had we not stepped in, or had he lost his NACARA case, he would have been deported to a country and environment he had not lived in for 30 years," he said.
When Moreno was asked what he personally gained from this case, he said, "It is always a blessing to help to change the life of a deserving client who lacks the resources to seek such change himself. There is no better professional feeling than this."
Moreno asks other attorneys considering pro bono representation to become involved.
"It is our duty as attorneys to use our specialized knowledge not only for financial gain, but for the benefit of our community," he said.
Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee chairwoman, at [email protected].