Reaching out: Work abroad fuels passion for helping immigrants

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

During her undergrad years at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Katherine Ganick participated in service learning trips to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, and after graduation volunteered for six months as an English teacher in La Serena, Chile.

She quickly realized that, although rewarding, teaching wasn’t her vocation.

“Rather, I was called to exploring different cultures and forming relationships with people from all over the world,” she says.

Ganick considered repeating the experience in another foreign country, but decided instead to work in the U.S.

“I felt compelled to continue my journey of forming relationships with people from all over the world, but with a domestic spin,” she says.

She spent the next 2 years with the nonprofit AmeriCorps VISTA in Columbus, with its main mission of fighting suburban poverty and also of helping the refugee and immigrant population.

Tasked with running the free legal clinic, Ganick also managed and worked with volunteers through the different programs, including the Family ESOL program – which provided free ESL classes for adult immigrants and refugees as well as homework help, tutoring, and childcare for children.

“I soon discovered my interest and heart was with directly serving the community and, in particular, immigrants and refugees,” she says. “In this moment it all seemed to click — to pursue a degree in immigration law.   

“From my travel experiences and being a foreigner in an unfamiliar land, I knew how to sympathize with immigrants and refugees new to an area. I knew what it was like to not fully understand the culture, language, and customs and how much I appreciated the friendly and understanding faces that wanted me to feel comfortable.”    

During her time in Columbus, Ganick also completed a paralegal certification program at Capital Law School, then returned to Cleveland to spend 3 years at the immigration law firm of Robert Brown LLC — testing out the waters of a possible law career.   

“I thoroughly enjoyed the paralegal work,” she says. “I was able to work with clients from all over the world. From non-immigrant visas to employment-based petitions, from victims of domestic violence to deportation proceedings, I’ve seen nearly all aspects of immigration.

“My work allowed me to encounter so many immigrants with incredible stories — they’ve inspired me to challenge myself so I can represent more people like them.”   

Although Ganick enjoyed her paralegal work, she was ready to take the next step and head to Detroit Mercy Law, where she could have a concentration in immigration law.

“I entered law school with the intention to give immigrants a better life and the ability to have a future,” she says. “I was also drawn to the Jesuit mission of Detroit Mercy. As a graduate of John Carroll University, I heavily value the Jesuit ideology of learning, leadership, and service, precisely what’s inspired me to further my career and pursue a degree in law.”

In her first semester, Ganick participated in the school’s Immigration Clinic, work she found challenging but extremely rewarding — and it fueled her dreams of becoming an immigration attorney with a law firm, and another dream of becoming an immigration professor and running an Immigration Law Clinic.

“The first semester of law school can be overwhelming and I felt the Immigration Clinic kept me grounded,” she says. “There were times I got so stuck in the books and studying, I forgot why I even decided to go to law school. My time at the Immigration Clinic allowed me to connect with clients and continue gaining tangible legal experience.”

Staying involved in the complex field of immigration also has kept her motivated and up-to-date with what is happening in the United States and around the world. And she gets plenty of opportunity to put her undergraduate degree in Spanish to good use.

The Pro Bono Clinic typically handles cases of u-visas, where an immigrant has been the victim of a crime in the U.S., and t-visas, where a victim has been trafficked.

“We also see a number of asylum-based cases, where an individual is afraid to return to their country,” Ganick says. “Since I speak Spanish, I often deal one-on-one with clients so that I translate and draft applications. I also work with a supervising attorney who has been a great mentor.”

Working in immigration, she notes, has provided a new adventure each day.

“I’ve met so many people from all over the world and continue to learn each day,” she says. “I love the challenge and the work it involves. I enjoy helping to build clients’ cases and guiding them through the process.    

“Working in immigration is very heavily client based and can also be quite personal — you’re often working with individuals who are dealing with perhaps the toughest point in their lives.”

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