AILA Presents Michelle N. Mendez with the 2015 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award

Advocacy Award

Saturday, June 20, 2015

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) will award Michelle N. Mendez, of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc, Baltimore, MD, with the 2015 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award for her outstanding contributions in the field of immigration and nationality law. She will receive the award today during AILA's Annual Conference in National Harbor, MD. Michelle Mendez is a committed advocate for the most vulnerable populations. She has dedicated her career to working in immigration non-profit organizations that represent indigent immigrants. Whether they are victims of ICE raids or unlawful police conduct who require motions to suppress to highlight constitutional violations or the Federal Torts Claims Act to obtain justice, victims of notario fraud, detained Marylanders in removal proceedings, or abandoned, abused or neglected immigrant youth, Ms. Mendez is always there to be the voice for those in need of quality legal representation and zealous advocacy.

Ms. Mendez is tireless in pursuit of a goal; perhaps the greatest example was her work spearheading the passage of Maryland HB 315 into law, which closed the gap in state court jurisdiction to include all unmarried, under-21 individuals seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) factual findings in guardianship or custody matters - essential for any qualifying immigrant youth to obtain SIJS. She recognized that even the most anti-immigrant lawmakers in Annapolis would be persuaded by a United States Marine Sergeant whose orphaned Haitian sister had been denied access to the court because the jurisdiction was limited to only those under 18. She developed the advocacy strategy, gave important stakeholders-including child welfare advocates and public defenders-a voice through their oral and written testimony, and developed a cohesive and consistent lobbying message that led to the passage of the bill that will help thousands of abandoned, abused or neglected immigrant youth.

As Chair of AILA's Consumer Protection and UPL Committee, Ms. Mendez drafted a comprehensive article on the causes and potential solutions for notario fraud that was distributed widely. She also developed bilingual informational videos to educate government officials, journalists, and the immigrant community on the issue of notario fraud. Furthermore, she educated Maryland state judges on the state statute, MICA, under which penalties can be imposed for notario fraud, and assisted local state's attorneys in finding and prosecuting notarios. Through her leadership, this committee has made notable, substantive, and ongoing contributions in the fight against notario fraud.

The consummate consensus-builder, Ms. Mendez's leadership and collaboration skills are unmatched, bringing advocates, organizations, government agencies, and other stakeholders to the table to produce working and effective programs. Recently, representing CLINIC, Michelle spent two weeks in south Texas to help assess and establish the pro bono program in Dilley, as the fight to end family detention continues. She brought all organizations to the table to give firm commitments for the first six months of the project while the groups fundraised, and developed the vision for the subsequent six months, handling important logistics while also liaising with government officials to obtain computer access for advocates at the family detention center at Dilley. Ms. Mendez inspires others to generosity. Whether teaching her immigration litigation clinical law students about the practice of immigration law, mentoring new attorneys as they begin their careers in the fight for justice for immigrants, or providing knowledgeable legal analysis and practice pointers to seasoned immigration attorneys, she energizes others to be their best as well.

A 2008 graduate of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Ms. Mendez also holds a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Georgetown University, and earned a Professional Certificate in Peace & Conflict Resolution from the Rotary Peace Center in Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is a native Spanish speaker originally from Medellín, Colombia and speaks French fluently.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 15062092.