As we reflect on National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re excited to highlight the outstanding pro bono contributions of two of our San Francisco Latina partners, Alexis Amezcua and Claudia Vetesi, whose recent work in El Paso, Texas, assisting migrant families separated at the U.S. – Mexico border, not only embodies MoFo’s values but the passion the two partners share for serving the greater good.
On June 25, MoFo chairman Larren Nashelsky signed a pledge to make MoFo one of 34 law firms committed to reunifying migrant families and ensuring representation for legitimate asylum seekers, giving Claudia and Alexis the opportunity jump in and help out on this important cause.
Following the signing of the pledge, “our pro bono team was hearing almost hourly from attorneys who wanted to help,” recalls Dorothy Fernandez, pro bono counsel for the firm. Spanish-speaking attorneys and, in particular, Spanish-speaking attorneys with some immigration experience were in the highest demand, she says.
Alexis and Claudia were ready to hit the ground running with the help of San Francisco associates Lauren Bennett and Justin Fisch, as well as New York associate Andrew Kissner. The San Francisco lawyers who were involved spoke about their experiences during a recent MoFo town hall panel discussion on Wednesday, September 26. They recalled the impressive number of valuable resources, time, and people the firm dedicated to this mission.
MoFo attorneys and staff provided legal assistance and advice, and gathered donations for legal service organizations and shelters including Annunciation House, an El Paso–based nonprofit. They also volunteered at local immigration clinics, helping to interview the detainees in order to establish whether the detainees might be able to avoid deportation on the grounds of a “credible fear” of returning to their countries.
Under the current administration, qualifying for asylum based on a credible fear requires seekers to demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear they’ll be persecuted in their native country based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions. Furthermore, the new policy states that when persecutors aren’t part of the government, seekers must prove that their home country is unwilling or unable to provide them protection, which does nothing to protect them from citizen-on-citizen persecution.
“I have been at the firm for 12 years and I have never been so proud to call myself a partner at Morrison & Foerster as I have been since the firm has mobilized to get not one but two Latina partners—and a Latina associate—on the ground in El Paso,” Alexis stated.
Alexis has extensive experience in class actions and other complex commercial litigation, and has practiced in a variety of substantive areas, including breach of contract, false advertising, wrongful termination, trade secret theft, unfair competition, product liability, federal banking law, and wrongful death.
Other pro bono efforts she has been involved in include representing veterans seeking mental healthcare in the highly publicized Veterans for Common Sense v. Peake, as well as participating in the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program.
“I come from a family of immigrants, so for me this was a particularly special opportunity,” says Claudia. “For many of these people, being detained is an awful experience, so being able to see my client reunited with his family and shake his hand once he was freed was such a great feeling. It’s also proof that the work we are doing is needed and valuable.”
Claudia’s practice is focused on defending consumer class actions and complex commercial litigation. Her key focus areas include unfair competition, false advertising, privacy issues, contract and licensing disputes, financial services litigation, and trade-secret misappropriation. Claudia is currently defending numerous food and cosmetic manufacturers in class actions and other litigation involving misbranding claims. She also represents companies in false advertising disputes before the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
Both women contribute to the firm’s Class Dismissed blog, which provides insights, recommendations, and timely reports on the latest defense news, developments, and trends in current class action lawsuits and product liability issues that affect consumer-facing companies.
San Francisco associate Lauren Bennett and partners Alexis Amezcua and Claudia Vetesi (from left to right) arriving in El Paso.