Helping Achieve Immigration Goals

Having come to the United States when he was 12 years old, Panel attorney Bernardo Merino has dedicated his law practice to helping others achieve their immigration goals.

Bernardo counsels many Spanish-speaking ALRP clients who hope to gain sanctuary in the U.S. through asylum. These clients fear encountering violence and barriers to medical care if they return to their countries of origin.

“Due to the persecution they may have been subjected to in Latin American countries, people who are HIV+ and gay may actually have a fighting chance at securing political asylum,” he says. “But immigration law is very complicated, and it’s hard for people to navigate the system on their own.”

Bernardo joined the Panel in 2007 after meeting Ana Montano, ALRP’s Immigration Attorney. “I met Ana while working at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center,” says Bernardo. “I said yes to her request because ALRP works with an underserved community — people who have endured quite a bit. It’s a community that I’m glad to assist. These are people who are going through many things, and they may be facing some very, very daunting immigration issues.”

Bernardo has provided pro bono counsel to over 50 ALRP immigration clients since joining the Panel. “Bernardo is very generous in terms of his professional time,” says Ana Montano. “He accepts almost every case we attempt to place with him and provides many pro bono consultations on difficult immigration issues.”

Bernardo recognizes that for immigration clients, timing can make all the difference in a case. Although HIV+ clients may have a very compelling reason for seeking asylum in the U.S., their applications can easily be denied if they miss a deadline. “I think the most important thing I do is offer timely advice,” says Bernardo.

There are strict deadlines for asylum applications. People either have to apply for asylum within one year of coming to the United States or within a reasonable time after they experience “changed circumstances.” Many people don’t realize that receiving an HIV diagnosis could qualify as a change in their circumstances for immigration purposes, allowing them more time to apply for asylum.

“It’s so important that ALRP have a network of immigration attorneys who can spot these issues and help people act when they need to,” notes Bernardo.

Bernardo earned a Master’s Degree in Latin American studies from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Southern California. He is proud to help people achieve their immigration goals through his private practice, the Law Offices of Bernardo Merino. Bernardo assists clients with a wide range of immigration issues, including citizenship and naturalization, family-based immigration, deportation defense, and asylum.

In addition to his pro bono work with ALRP immigration clients, Bernardo consults with Panel attorneys from larger firms and mentors new Panel attorneys.

In his spare time, Bernardo spends time with his wife and four-year-old son.

Bernardo donates his time and expertise to ALRP clients because he is committed to helping those in need. “I believe all attorneys should do pro bono work,” he said. “It’s part of our obligation as both attorneys and members of the community. It’s easy to get too caught up in our own practices. By doing this kind of work, we’re making a difference in someone’s life.”

ALRP is incredibly grateful for Bernardo’s generous service to our clients and our organization.

Published July 2012