Thursday, 09 October 2014 00:00

Attorney Solange McDaniel: helping those who can't help themselves Featured

Written by Mary Cabell Kelly
Solange McDaniel relates to how delicate these situations are and how to best handle them. Solange McDaniel relates to how delicate these situations are and how to best handle them. MC Kelly

Attorney Solange Adams McDaniel helps immigrants become residents of the U.S., while helping them feel safe again.

 

McDaniel has a personal perspective on immigration. Had her father not been a citizen of the United States, her coming to the U.S. from Venezuela as a child could have been a much harder process. She is passionate about helping others in situations that could have been her own.

 

"I meet with clients most of the day, unless I have court in the morning,” said McDaniel, who works in Johnson City, Tennessee. “Mostly what I do is consultations, where I meet with people and determine whether or not they qualify for some type of immigration benefit that can allow them to get a permanent resident card or a visa. I also help defend them if they are already in immigration court proceedings.”

 

 McDaniel also works with permanent U.S. residents who have criminal charges that may affect their immigration status, and handles personal injury and worker’s compensation cases.

 

“Children brought to America illegally at a very young age could still face dire consequences if they break the law,” said McDaniel.

 

“If someone gets arrested for something small as a teen, even something like leaving the scene of an accident or showing a fake ID, they could easily get placed in immigration court proceedings and be removed to a country they don’t know or can barely remember and have zero family to help them,” McDaniel said. “Doing so can be subjecting them to a horrible life, which is why I want to help and make a difference in these people’s lives.”

 

She explained how a criminal charge that seems small to a U.S. citizen could have a much greater impact on those who are not citizens.

 

“I help clients with something that may be affecting their immigration status, like a criminal charge or citation,” McDaniel said. “Even the tiniest charge could land you in immigration court, where you could be sent back to your country of birth, regardless of whether you still speak the language or have any ties to it. For those who are too afraid to go to the police, I help people get U-visas, which let them stay in the country while they are helping the government or police catch a criminal who has hurt them or others.”

 

Young immigrants became an issue in the U.S. last summer, when President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to confront an “urgent humanitarian situation” at the Texas border.

 

“And with the influx of children we need to make a more sustainable program because there are a lot of unaccompanied immigrant children coming across the border, and there is a lot of talk about that, but there is not a lot of talk about what they are desperately trying to escape.”

                                                    — Solange McDaniel

As gang violence and other crime increased in Central America — Honduras has the highest rate for murder in the world, according to the United Nations — a record number of children were anxiously trying to leave their home countries, even if that meant traveling alone to the U.S. This started a heated debate in the U.S. about the “invasion” by unaccompanied migrant children and what the best thing to do might be.

 

McDaniel was born in Venezuela in 1986 to parents from two different worlds.

 

“My parents met when they were both working for Continental Can in Barquisimeto,” McDaniel said. “My father was from Nebraska and was the general manager, and my mother was the cost accountant.”

 

They married and had three children: Hugo, now 35, McDaniel, who is 28, and Michael, 27.

 

“We moved to the United States when I was very young, so I never experienced what school was like in Venezuela to really know the difference in the United States,” McDaniel said.

 

McDaniel’s mother, also named Solange, had to learn English and had a harder time adapting because she grew up in Colombia.

 

“At the beginning everything was scary and uncomfortable, even going to the grocery store,” said Solange Adams. “I drove in Venezuela, but somehow driving in the United States was different.”

 

She found the language difficult, as well as the distance from home.

 

“My husband traveled a lot due to his job and I was alone taking caring of the children in a different country,” she said. “It was new and scary.”

 

Many families speak their native language at home to keep it sharp, but McDaniel said her family had a different situation.

 

“I spoke Spanish when I was young, but when we moved to the United States, my mother and older brother were focusing on becoming fluent in English, so we spoke English at home to help them learn, and along the way I lost a little of my Spanish,” McDaniel said.

 

As a child, McDaniel was an avid reader and runner.

 

“Reading and running is what helps me de-stress and lose myself,” McDaniel said. “It’s also a huge passion of mine. My favorite author would have to be Frank Herbert. I’ve read everything of his, and

I try to run daily. It’s so good for the mind and body.”

 

After high school McDaniel went to Clemson University for a year, but when her dad got sick, she moved closer to home and attended King College. King is where she received academic and athletic scholarships to run cross country and track. King is also where she met her husband, Caleb McDaniel. After graduation she went to law school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

 

During that time, McDaniel’s father passed away. He was her biggest fan.

 

“The most influential role model in my life was definitely my dad,” McDaniel said. “He was an engineer and also a Marine. He served in Korea and he travelled the world working for his company. He inspired me to want to travel the world, as well.”

 

She took incompletes for that semester of law school and went home to be with family.

 

“I think being a runner really helped me deal with things; I believe that was a lot of what built my character and endurance, not just in athletics, but in life,” McDaniel said. She made up her missed work over Christmas break, so she was still able to graduate on time. After graduation, she took a position with the Torres Law Firm in Knoxville.

 

“I wanted to keep Solange working for me,” said McDaniel’s boss, attorney Charles Torres. “I knew she was from Johnson City, and I wouldn’t have opened the Johnson City office if Solange wasn’t a good, hard worker.” He opened the office so clients from the Virginia border didn’t have to drive all the way to Knoxville.

 

Because her father was an American, McDaniel and her brothers were U.S citizens born abroad.

 

“We didn’t really have any trouble coming to the U.S.,” she said. “My mother and older brother were permanent residents before we ever moved here. We were very lucky; it is usually much harder to immigrate to the U.S.”

 

The U.S. has had difficulty policing its southern border, making state and federal laws harder to enforce.

 

Obama made a statement in July that he would not start any immigration reform until after the November elections. 

 

“President Obama has pledged to take action on immigration reform through executive action if necessary, but then made the statement about delaying because of the midterm election,” McDaniel said. “And with the influx of children we need to make a more sustainable program because there are a lot of unaccompanied immigrant children coming across the border, and there is a lot of talk about that, but there is not a lot of talk about what they are desperately trying to escape.”

 

According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center, 57,525 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the southwest border between October 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014.

 

Most of McDaniel’s clients, however, are already in the country, undocumented, trying to find a way to have permanent legal residence in the United States.

 

“It is a rewarding job helping people, especially when that could have been my family,” McDaniel said.

  

Torres let McDaniel run the office in Johnson City because he knew she was from the city, and that there were a lot of Hispanics in the area.

 

“Solange cares a lot about people and has a desire to help and guide the immigrant population,” Torres said. “But we are honest with them if we can’t help, and the majority we cannot help because of immigration laws.

 

“But we do see what we can do to make their life a little easier. And an employee who is a good worker and a good person is hard to come by. Solange is very passionate about helping these desperate people, but still has common sense and honesty when there is nothing we can do to help.”

 

En español: La abogada Solange McDaniel ayuda a quienes lo necesitan

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