When Colombian and South American immigrants encounter challenges upon arriving in America, a fellow countryman steps forward to lend a helping hand. As the passionate president of the Colombian American Service Association (CASA), Julio Jaramillo (JD 91) advocates for human rights and helps hundreds of individuals and families each month work to earn their citizenship.
Jaramillo, who came to the U.S. from Colombia in 1966 and recently opened his own private law firm in Miami, feels Colombian and other South American immigrants are ignored in the U.S.
“I got involved in CASA in 1995 because the problems my fellow Colombians and immigrants generally faced were at the point where something needed to be done,” Jaramillo said. “They are overlooked and have very little representation in the community.”
The organization serves about 400 to 500 families a month from places such as Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and even Eastern Europe. It receives referrals from community service organizations, elected officials and civic leaders “because they know the work we do, and no one gets turned away regardless of ability to pay,” he says.
CASA is currently trying to expand its reach across Florida where about 500,000 Colombians reside. Jaramillo says that by some estimates, almost half of them are undocumented. “Though the majority of South American immigrants are in South Florida, there has been a tremendous migration to other parts of the state such as Naples, Tampa, even Pensacola and the Panhandle,” he said.
Jaramillo most enjoys the monthly “citizen drives” that CASA organizes. “Once or twice a month we help people get their documentation and begin the process of getting their citizenship,” he said. “You should see their faces and the gratitude they display when they can swear themselves in as U.S. citizens.”
Jaramillo remembers being taught at UF Law that lawyers should have a social conscience. “It’s not only a privilege, but an obligation to better our society on behalf of those that can’t,” he said.
– Jason Silver