For Georgia State College of Law graduate Maria Casablanca, immigration issues have always been important.
Since her career began, Casablanca (J.D. ’88) has aimed at helping immigrant families realize the American dream, and she found a career doing just that as the Chair of Immigration Planning and Compliance Practice at Akerman LLP in Miami.
“It still gets to me how grateful people are,” Casablanca said. “I can help people become part of this country, and that’s the most important thing. That’s what I strive for the most. It’s about giving their children a better future. This is especially important to me since I can empathize because I have a son that means the world to me.”
Casablanca has been on the front lines of immigration work, representing indigent immigrants at the border pro bono. She credits Akerman’s robust support of pro bono programs for her opportunity to give back, but she also reaches other areas of immigration law that are less obvious.
Currently, Casablanca represents more international investors seeking investment visas or green cards, but whether she is working with immigrants fighting to remain in the country or wealthy international investors, her motivation remains helping families ensure a brighter future.
“Whether it’s that group or your multinational investors, it’s about their children,” she said. “Some live better in their home countries. Sometimes their staffs even exceed the number of family members living in their household, but they come here for their children. They want their children to have an education here to have better employment opportunities. That’s what keeps me going.”
Originally from Miami, Casablanca moved to Hawaii when her military husband was transferred there. She graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1982 and decided to move back to the mainland for law school.
Casablanca, who was also serving in the Army Reserves at the time, considered schools in her native South Florida but chose a Georgia State program that was just three years old at the time.
“I wanted to come back to the East Coast,” she said. “Since Georgia State was a fledgling university, I thought I could get a better education there than the schools in South Florida. What I liked the most was the cohesiveness. Because it was a smaller school, we all got to know each other really well. We worked hard, but we also played hard.”
Leaving the Hawaiian weather was a challenge for Casablanca, but that adjustment was more than offset by what she gained from the experience.
She said she gained lifelong friends and memories during her time at Georgia State, and it also laid the groundwork for her career when she got her first immigration law experience as an intern with Catholic Social Services.
“I was in court a lot trying to stop deportations,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience. The judges and the trial attorneys treated me better because they knew I was helping people. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
From there, Casablanca has not looked back, and she does not plan on changing course now, as the constantly changing nature of immigration law keeps her job interesting and challenging.
Casablanca said that enjoyment, coupled with fulfilling her passion for helping people, has kept her on course, and she encourages current and future students to find the same.
“If you want to help people, it has to be in a field you really enjoy,” she said. “As long as you have a passion for it specifically, it’s going to go well. There are all kinds of ways to help good causes. You just have to look for your passion and what you want to do.”
Written by Alex Resnak