A Special Connection to Immigrant Clients
When MoFo Government Contracts partner Tina Reynolds first approached Meyvelin Flores 12 years ago seeking help with interpreting Spanish for a new pro bono client in the firm’s Northern Virginia (NoVa) office, Meyvelin, then a receptionist, was more than happy to oblige.
It was common knowledge around the office that Meyvelin, a native of El Salvador, was fluent in Spanish, which is what prompted Tina to approach her. What Meyvelin did not know then was that saying “yes” to Tina’s request would be the first step in helping countless pro bono clients in the NoVa and Washington, D.C. offices. It would also pave the way for Meyvelin to become a certified interpreter and an invaluable asset to MoFo’s lawyers and pro bono clients alike.
Having come to the United States from El Salvador at age 10, Meyvelin witnessed firsthand the struggles that immigrant families like her own experienced, including her father initially being denied asylum. So she was more than eager to help: “Many of these people, as I experienced with my own parents, haven’t been in the country for very long and they don’t have the support they need in place, so they are very scared and vulnerable to begin with.”
“I thought if I can help them, then why not,” she added. Meyvelin, who is now a Senior Client Experience Coordinator, notes that many of the pro bono clients she works with come into the office under extremely difficult and traumatic circumstances, including several victims of abuse or rape. They can be very intimidated by the whole legal process and are not comfortable enough to speak freely with a lawyer about their circumstances. Her first instinct is to build trust with them by drawing on their commonalities.
“Many of our clients come from El Salvador and Honduras, so I explain to them that I am from El Salvador and I am just like them,” she says. “I don’t come off as very strict or serious,” she adds, “but more as a friend to explain to them that we are there to help.” As soon as she makes that critical human connection, clients begin to let down their guards, and, as they become more comfortable, they open up and tell her their stories.
According to Tina, “the successes we have achieved for our clients in these matters would not have been possible without Meyvelin’s help. Interpreting is just a small part of what Meyvelin does. From the first meeting, she becomes someone our clients can trust, and in turn helps them begin to trust us as lawyers representing them. Meyvelin gets our clients to understand that we can best help when we know the whole story, good and bad. I know that our clients would not open up in the way they do without Meyvelin’s reassurance and friendship.”
In fact, many of the clients Meyvelin has worked with over the years keep in touch with her. One of them, in particular, she refers to as “family.” And her support goes beyond interpretation—she often provides a reassuring presence when clients and their attorneys go to court.
Today, Meyvelin is actively involved in 10 pro bono asylum, special immigration juvenile status, and U visa matters, and she shows no signs of slowing down. As she puts it: “My parents didn’t have these opportunities when they first came to the United States, so the help I offer comes from my heart and my desire to want to pay it forward.”
Meyvelin’s story is featured in our “MoProBono: Human Rights Edition” pro bono newsletter. Read the full issue for highlights of the many human rights and civil rights matters our lawyers have worked on over the last year.