Volunteer Spotlight: Katrina Bleckley

July 29, 2019

 

“It’s you or no one.”

With those five words, OneJustice’s senior staff attorney Ariella Morrison changed my life. Honestly, she blew it completely apart.

My name is Katrina and I am an entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles. For as long as I have worked, it has been in music. First running bands’ MySpace pages, then interning at labels while getting a bachelor’s degree in music industry, and finally at a boutique law firm while I got my law degree with a concentration in intellectual property. I have my own entertainment practice now and co-run a music nonprofit, PLAG, where we elevate the voices of womxn and non-binary folks in the arts.

There wasn’t a step I took that wasn’t toward establishing my own entertainment law practice, servicing creators at all levels in their career.

Until the Muslim travel ban came down and I found myself running intake at LAX and reviewing my declaration for an ACLU lawsuit against Donald Trump while screaming at border patrol to tell us what was happening. I had no idea what I was doing.

Until I started showing up at every immigration training and clinic that I could. I remember my first DACA clinic and nervously asking a supervising attorney what “EWI” meant while the woman I was helping looked at me skeptically. I had no idea what I was doing.

Until I started attending meetings for the LA Raids Rapid Response Network, where I often found myself more useful to the communications team than the legal team. I offered to get coffee and make spreadsheets. I went back into first year intern mode. I had no idea what I was doing.

Until one day I sat down next to Ariella, until then just a name in my inbox periodically, and asked if I could come into OneJustice once a week to help with the Raids Network. She said yes, and I started making spreadsheets, learning about Innovation Law Lab, trying to memorize organizations and personnel and what they all did. I had no idea what I was doing.

Until that day in November. Ariella and I had casually said that we would one day take on a bond hearing case but had not taken concrete steps to get there. I had never even been to a courtroom. As an entertainment lawyer, I work in jeans and metal band T-shirts. I have purple hair and I am covered in tattoos. I own precisely one suit and one pair of heels, which I only own because I need them to go to Magic Castle. I do business as frequently at local venues like The Echo, the Hi Hat, and the Troubadour as I do via email or drafting agreements. I had NO IDEA what I was doing.

“It’s you or no one.”

Those five words. I can still hear them.

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“It’s you or no one.”

This was in mid-November 2018, the week before Thanksgiving. Ariella was referring to the merits hearing for a 21 year old Salvadoran woman’s asylum case. I had a week and a half to prepare for a merits hearing. I had no idea what I was doing. 

“Okay.”

And, with that, I took my first immigration case. It was that easy. I was lucky that my clients younger sister was represented by Immigrant Defenders Law Center, and Cristel Martinez, my client’s sister’s attorney, helped me prepare a closing brief (that the immigration judge refused to accept), declarations for my client’s mother and sister, my direct questioning and potential cross examination questions, and interpreted for meetings with my client. She also taught me how to say “may I approach, Your Honor?” and what to say when you’re asked to enter your appearance. We did all of this over the Thanksgiving break. In addition to Cristel’s help, I had access to all of the resources that OneJustice and the LA Raids Rapid Response Network could provide. That included access to expert immigration attorneys, form briefs, extensive training materials, and more. Though I was terrified at the time, in retrospect, I was incredibly well prepared for my first hearing. But back in November, I thought that I had no idea what I was doing.

Until I realized that I had an idea what I was doing.

I’ve provided pro bono representation to nearly twenty asylum seekers since then. I got my first asylum grant in early 2019 and I cannot put into words the joy I felt when the immigration judge gave her decision. I text clients out on bond now, about their cases, but also about their lives now that they’re free and unafraid. They send photos of themselves doing normal things: singing karaoke, playing football, spending time with cousins. In fact, I even went to karaoke with my first ever client, the woman from El Salvador, recently. We had Salvadoran food. She sang. Her father sang. And those things are so beautiful and special to see.

If you’ve ever thought about doing some immigration work but thought that it was too complex, you didn’t have enough experience, or there was too much to learn, please take it from me, a purple haired, tattooed, transactional entertainment attorney: you can do it. A bond hearing is fairly easy to prepare for most asylum seekers and will mean the world to them. It’s the difference between life with family, karaoke, and football and a life spent in a prison. Through the LA Raids Rapid Response network, you will have access to all of the resources that I did. There are more training materials than I can count – both written and video – and expert immigration attorneys who are more than happy to review filings, answer questions via phone or email, or help you navigate the process. I honestly felt safe and prepared every step of the way. The immigration community is a wonderful and supportive one. We’re all in this together, friends. 

Join us, and help save lives.

For policy updates and new volunteer and training opportunities across California, become a part of the Immigration Pro Bono Network!

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