Marie Mendoza

Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law

"The discussion board provides constant feedback and, with everyone from different states, broadens the conversations and highlights different experiences."



For those that aren’t aware, can you explain the field of Immigration Law?

Immigration law is unique.  Unlike state laws which vary by state, immigration laws are national and cover regulations and legal precedents governing immigration into and deportation from a country.  The laws cover both the rights of entry and exit as well as internal rights, such as the duration of stay, freedom of movement, right to work, and participation in government. By studying immigration law, you learn not only the law but also how these laws vary according to the social and political climate of the times.  Every changing immigration law is always a hot and important topic.   

Why do you think there was a need to develop a program that focuses on this field?

Immigration law has always been a polarizing topic, always changing based on the social and political climate of the times as well as society’s appetite for accepting immigrants.  The need to understand the law is both current and relevant.  The program is designed to educate those that are working within the immigration field, both lawyers and other practitioners, so they can better assist their clients by understanding the concept of immigration laws, the current rules, and its practical applications. 

How does your current work relate to the field of immigration law?

I’m currently not working in my field but, in my previous position, I worked several years with an immigration attorney.  I majored in law and am actively looking to go back, which is why I enrolled in the program. I want to be better prepared, knowledgeable, and confident when the opportunity arises to practice immigration law.

What is the most gratifying aspect of your job? What is the most difficult aspect?

When I worked for an immigration lawyer, one of the most gratifying experiences is to help your client change their status. Adjustment of status brings so many benefits including, but not limited to, petitioning for family members, permanent employment, going to college, health insurance, etc. The clients come in unsure of what to do and worried.  Helping them understand and be able to adjust their status gives them both comfort and hope. 

On the other side of the coin, gaining the trust of a client that has lost trust in attorneys and the immigration legal system because they were lied to, robbed, or threatened by the previous attorney or another person in the immigration field, is truly difficult.  Understandably, they come to you broken, distraught, and fearful.  And even after you console them and walk them step by step as to what will happen, you still must gain their trust, which takes time and effort.

Why did you choose to pursue the Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law? Why at CUNY SPS? 

My mother has always participated in the CUNY/Daily News Citizenship NOW! Call-in phone lines.  It was always a success.  I’ve participated a few times myself.  It’s an excellent feeling to be able to provide answers to questions people have on immigration.  It so hard to rely on who’s saying what and attorney consultation fees can be expensive, especially when the process mainly consists of just answering questions.  Being part of a call-in event was so gratifying. It would be great if there were more programs like this one.

From this gratifying experience, my interest in immigration law continued and grew.  When I heard that CUNY SPS offered such a program, I had no doubt in my mind it would be an outstanding program based on their reputation and my prior experience with CUNY.  I felt I was in good hands and thought it would be crazy going anywhere else. 

In which ways have you benefitted from enrolling in an online program such as this?

While I won't miss the long hours and race to post my assignments before the deadline, the online program was a wonderful journey.  Besides the obvious of being able to work based on my own schedule, I loved that each week provided an opportunity to learn a new and relevant topic.  I always knew immigration law was complicated but didn't realize the layers of complexity.  It's like a game of chess.  Every move and every counter move is different depending on your circumstances. 

And as important and relevant as the topics were, what I enjoyed the most is how everyone shared their stories and experiences on the discussion board.  You can study the law until blue in the face but the real-life stories everyone posted, many of them innocent and heart-breaking, showed how important and life-changing our laws are to immigrants who came to the U.S. simply because they want a better life.  Yes, there are some bad apples, but no group is exempt.  The stories shared brought the law into life. 

Can this experience be replicated in a classroom setting?  What about the lack of students to talk to and social interaction?  In a classroom setting, everyone is from the same area often with similar views and stories.  In contrast, online students are from different states, so you get perspective and views you can’t get from a classroom.  And with online classes, the discussion board becomes the social interaction, sharing stories, opinions, and case examples of how the law really works and what it means to so many.  I am certainly the wiser for it. 

Which courses/aspects of the program have you enjoyed the most thus far?

The online program’s discussion board was the most enjoyable and surprising experience so far.  Never having taken an online course before, I was unsure of what to expect.  With the discussion board, everyone was able to discuss topics of law, express their opinions and share real-life stories of immigrants and how important the laws are to them, how it shapes their lives and their dreams, and the nightmares and harsh realities that occur when you don’t understand the law or how to get help.  The discussion board provides constant feedback and, with everyone from different states, broadens the conversations and highlights different experiences.  As I read what everyone posted, both pro and anti-immigration, I left saying “wow, I didn’t think about that.”    

What is your relationship like with other students/professors?

The relationships to date, both online and in the classroom setting, have been respectful.  I value their opinions; the environment was non-judgmental, and I enjoyed learning so much.

Which professional and/or personal goals would you like to achieve upon graduating from the program?

Upon graduation, I will continue to pursue employment within my field and feel even more confident after obtaining my certificate.

In your opinion, how do you think this program will help contribute to helping the landscape of immigration law?

Giving people a better understanding is the core purpose.  Immigration is a polarizing subject and while everyone talks about it, often they don’t really know about it. You can’t expect someone to do great if they don’t have a full understanding. You can’t sympathize if you haven’t seen or learned about it first-hand.  Immigration is complicated and it’s not what certain people may think, that immigrants are here to steal American jobs.  Immigrants are not just coming here for a better life, it can be fear of persecution in their homeland or mother nature destroying their counties and villages.  Attorney and practitioners that work within the immigration field need to be sympathetic, open-minded, and compassionate. Otherwise, you won’t be the right fit for this. 

What advice can you give to someone who is considering returning to school for an Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law?

I highly recommend CUNY SPS’s Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.  The program is easy to apply for, and the courses are core and relevant to immigration law.  The courses are strategic and necessary to understand immigration law and the various elements from inadmissibility, deportation, detention, criminal convictions to adjustment of status, waivers, and motions.  The certificate is not long, and is enjoyable both in the classroom and online settings, as I have done both.  Class size is small and online is not that much different.  The professors interact very well with the students both on campus and online and are extremely knowledgeable.  I don’t believe there is anything they have not heard of, witnessed, or seen. Based on all these things mentioned, my question is how can you not want to be part of the CUNY SPS experience?


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