Meet Our Staff: Mark Saucedo
“Immigration is always personal for me, because ultimately people just want to be happy, and I want to be the person who makes that happen.”
-Mark Saucedo, Legal Advocate on the Immigrant Victims of Crime (IVOC) Initiative
We spoke with Mark Saucedo, Legal Advocate on the Immigrant Victims of Crime (IVOC) Initiative, about what his role at HIAS PA means to him. Read the extended interview below!
Can you describe your role at HIAS PA?
I help conduct legal screenings at monthly U-Visa Know Your Rights presentations, and I work closely with clients in order to help them apply for the U-Visa.
Note: A U-Visa is a special non-immigrant status that is given to victims of certain crimes here in the US. Recipients must be undocumented, assisting the police or DA’s office in the investigation of the crime, and have sustained substantial physical, emotional, and/or psychological harm. The crime must also be a qualifying crime.
What brought you to HIAS Pennsylvania?
HIAS PA has been on my radar ever since I was a sophomore in college. I knew I wanted to be involved with HIAS Pennsylvania after my volunteer opportunity at the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where I worked with T-Visa applicants. This opened the door to working in immigration – I was so taken aback by what my clients were experiencing that I knew I needed to use my knowledge of Spanish to help do something more. I was able to secure a role at HIAS Pennsylvania shortly thereafter, and I’ve been fulfilling my dreams of helping others ever since.
What languages do you speak, and how does this help you when working with your clients?
I primarily speak English and Spanish, and have taken courses in indigenous languages such as Mayan and Kaqchikel. English and Spanish have definitely helped me in my role to get on a personal basis with my clients, because it’s much easier to communicate and help them navigate the systems of immigration and complete their request for a U-Visa or other types of services when you speak the same language.
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always known that I wanted to work with and help people, and, being the son of immigrants, I also wanted to use my knowledge of Spanish, but I wasn’t sure how. I first went down the route of becoming a teacher, however that wasn’t for me. Thankfully, working at the Sheller Clinic at Temple helped me realize my interest in immigration and introduced me to HIAS PA. From accessing legal services to just communicating with people, I always knew there was so much more to be done in the field of immigration than was currently being done, so, with my parents as my foundation and moral character – they taught me everything I needed to know in order to be successful: be generous, be kind, be outgoing – plus my knowledge and love for Spanish and for others, I was put in the best position to excel here at HIAS PA.
Immigration is always personal for me, because ultimately people just want to be happy, and I want to be the person who makes that happen, whether it’s helping them obtain legal status, or getting pointed in the right direction to get medical services, or what have you. My parents are my reason why I do it.
What is one interaction that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
I had a client who was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the day his U-Visa certification was approved, after dropping his kids off at school. This was two months after we had initially met, conducted his screening and intake, and requested his certification.
During that whole process – speaking with his wife, collecting any information we needed about him (since he was in a detention center), actually traveling to the detention center to get his statement – I was connected to another attorney at Nationalities Services Center (NSC) who knew everything about the process in terms of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), so I got to see both the process of applying for the U-Visa and the TPS process. Ultimately my client was granted TPS and was able to leave the detention center and go home to his wife and children. Seeing someone go into detention and ultimately leave – which nowadays during the pandemic takes longer than usual – was incredibly educational and heartwarming. I got to see the inside and the outside of the process.
We work behind the scenes in terms of helping our clients proactively apply for visas and services, but getting to go to the detention center – you can’t compare it to what you see in movies or on the news. It’s such a cold place. When I first met my client, he was a young-looking, energetic man, and when I saw him at the detention center, he was like a completely different person – very drained, it was really sad to see all of that going on. It was also right at the beginning of the pandemic, so precautions had just recently been put in place. It was interesting to see how that system functions, in a way most of us don’t get to see.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
To the supporters of HIAS PA – I think it’s very important to know that everyone in this agency cares deeply about our clients, and cares deeply about immigrants and refugees, and that we’re making a real change in our clients’ lives and in this entire field. We’re all very hard at work to make sure that the social justice that we mention and fight for is our top priority.
What is your favorite thing to eat in Philly?
My parents would be mad if I didn’t mention tacos. The tacos here, especially in South Philadelphia, are amazing – that’s my favorite thing to eat. There’s a strip right before the Italian Market where it’s two blocks of taquerias, and all of them are so good. I highly recommend South Philly Barbacoa – and the owner – Cristina Martinez, an undocumented immigrant, successful businesswoman, and community advocate – is a really wonderful woman, and her food – the meat melts in your mouth. I can’t say enough good things about the tacos there – they’re really delicious.