Getting to Know: Noemi Masliah, Esq.
How did you come to work with the SAFE/CBST/RUSA LGBT/New Sanctuary Coalition pro se legal clinic?
I am a long time member of CBST, and I am now a Board member. I have been an immigration lawyer for more than 40 years and an activist in LGBTQI issues for almost as long. When the synagogue decided, more than one year ago, to expand its collaboration with the New Sanctuary Coalition and help with its overwhelmed legal clinic by housing an extension to our home on 30th Street, I was asked to help lead it. This was a perfect fit for me.
How does your own personal background impact your work?
I am an immigrant. My parents were French Holocaust survivors who settled in Cuba after the war. I was born there. We left Cuba when I was nine and moved to the US, then to Peru, then back when we finally settled in New York. As an immigrant and a law student, I always knew I wanted to be an immigration lawyer. As a lesbian and a Jew, I always knew that I wanted to do social justice work in order to do my part to help repair the world. The intersection of both made me an activist. I joined the board of Lambda Legal and I co-founded Immigration Equality. In my private practice, soon after the “homosexual” ground of exclusion in the immigration law was repealed, I began filing applications for asylum on behalf of LGBTQI foreign nationals fleeing persecution in their home countries. Soon after marriage equality became a reality in some jurisdictions, I began filing marriage-based petitions for sex-same spouses. Now, while managing a busy private practice, I help run the clinic. I have been blessed to be able to do this work.
What are the biggest challenges facing the communities we work with?
Without a doubt, we have many. A couple are: 1) The lack of available resources, be they legal or social or medical or financial; 2) the difficulties imposed by the process of obtaining relief (for example, the one-year deadline for applying for political asylum and the very narrow definition of “membership in a particular social group”).
What do you hope to see for our community with the transition to the new Presidential administration?
My wish list is long: Restoring greater autonomy and the exercise of discretion to immigration judges, repeal of the one-year deadline for filing for political asylum, the more expedient issuance of employment authorization documents, the tearing up of so many of the old administration’s Executive Orders which have so negatively impacted our community, the overturning of the former Attorney General’s certified decisions, etc. And, of course, the development and implementation of intelligent and fair health measures that make it possible for us to soon meet in person again.