Maddie Richardson and James Kung
JACKSON HEIGHTS — In the weeks after President Trump signed his first travel ban, 39-year-old Laura Outeda gave talks on TV shows, at schools, and to immigrant families about their rights.
“They have a right to be silent,” she advised, “Not to lie, and not to run, not to give fake documents, but they don’t have to speak.”
Ms. Outeda also received calls and visits from many undocumented parents with children who were citizens, worried that they would be deported and their children left on their own or thrown into foster care.
“It is the reality for the children of undocumented immigrants, coming back from school and finding out their that their parents are gone, with no one to care for them,” she said in a recent interview at her office Jackson Heights, Queens.
Ms. Outeda is an immigrant herself, who came to America in 1995 from Buenos Aires, Argentina, with her parents and two sisters. Her father was a psychologist, she said, and there were many jobs available for Spanish-speaking psychologists. They moved to Queens, New York where Ms. Outeda lives today.
“When I was eight years old, I overheard my father and my grandfather talk about how law was such a nice career,” she said. “It just shows how much, when your parents talk, it can be so influential.” Ms. Outeda graduated with honors from Hunter College in 2001 and went on to attend Hofstra University School of Law where she received her JD in 2005.
Ms. Outeda has owned her practice in Jackson Heights, Queens since 2009 where she practices general law. According to her website, Ms. Outeda practices many different kinds of law including family court, bankruptcy, commercial matters, and more.
While in law school, Ms. Outeda worked with a child advocacy clinic as a student attorney for victims of crimes or domestic violence, and now does pro-bono work for immigrant children who have come to the U.S. by themselves. Ms. Outeda said that when she was interviewing children some of these children, she was deeply affected by their stories.
“One child told me he got lost in the desert, and he told me, ‘I was happy immigration found me,’ because they had no water, no food.”
“In my opinion if they have to go through that, it has to be really really bad in [their home] country,” she said. In countries like Honduras, gangs threaten to kill children unless they join the gang and commit to a life of crime.
About 60 percent of Ms. Outeda’s clients speak Spanish, she said. They go to Ms. Outeda because she speaks both English and Spanish. She learned English in high school when she came to America, “and I was very shy, so I had to learn to write and read but I wouldn’t speak as much,” she said. “And then law school was all in English, and then in this area now I’m speaking Spanish, and now my accent I think it is stronger.”
Yrma Carranza, 36, escaped to America as an undocumented immigrant in 2001 to escape the gang violence in El Salvador. Ms. Carranza’s boyfriend seized possession of her house and she was unable to get it back because she was an undocumented immigrant, so she went to Ms. Outeda to get her papers and become documented.
Ms. Outeda helped Ms. Carranza become documented in two and a half years. “She is a lawyer who fights for people’s rights and for immigrants rights”
Ms. Carranza talked about the struggles of being undocumented in America
“Getting a job is one,” she said, “they don’t have a chance of getting medical insurance, the jobs don’t pay very much and you have to work a lot of hours.”
Now that Ms. Carranza is documented, she has a job that pays well and has health insurance.
Even before Ms. Carranza was documented, her two children were citizens. She said the experience of being an undocumented parent was particularly difficult.
“[Undocumented parents are always worried. They go to work worried because they don’t know if they [ICE] can take their children if their children aren’t documented.”
Ms. Carranza said that she still has lots of friends and family members who are still in El Salvador, some of whom have been killed as a result of gang violence. She said that if they were to come to America to become documented, she would definitely recommend Laura.
Ms. Outeda’s previous clients have said that she was loyal, honest, hard-working, works fast, and is extremely professional.
“She just cares a lot about people, you know?” said Duvinka Jordan, a former client of Ms. Outeda’s.