continued "Several years later, when I was out of law school, working at the Centro de Asuntos Migratorios, another nonprofit legal-aid society for immigrants, I went before Judge Williams on my first case. Judge Williams said, 'Is this your first time in court?' And I said, 'No, Your Honor, actually it's my second. If you'll remember I represented myself before you a few years back.'
"It was my experience as an immigrant that really guided me toward using my degree for helping immigrants. I wouldn't say it's a religious conviction. It would be more accurate to call it a spiritual conviction to help the poor."
Golchin comes from what he calls a "semi-religious" Muslim family. Sofia is what he jokingly describes as a "Muslim-Catholic joint venture." Sister Trudy Considine, a San Diego native and a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart, founded Sofia with Golchin in 1995. Sister Considine had taught for 20 years in Catholic schools from El Cajon to Seattle. She returned to San Diego in the mid-1980s because she wanted to learn Spanish. By 1990 she was doing legal work on behalf of immigrants. Officially, Sofia is a project of the Society of the Sacred Heart and receives most its funding from Catholic charities. Sofia's mission statement claims the organization "strives to be a prophetic voice on behalf of immigrants, migrants, and abused women and children."
"What keeps me going," says Golchin, sitting in his spartan office, "is keeping families together, whether that means preventing a deportation, or arranging reunification, or making it possible for parents to work so they can provide for their children. Or even helping some woman who's been brought to this country by her husband, only to be beaten and abandoned. There she is with her children. No way to provide for them. She doesn't speak the language. She doesn't know what to do or where to turn. We help many women like that.
"I'm also motivated out of a sense that the immigrant is the ultimate underdog. This country has a hard time appreciating immigrants and all the ways they contribute to our society. Immigrants generally don't have anyone to stick up for them, to educate them about their rights. In their own communities they often have people who cheat them. People -- they call themselves 'notaries' -- who claim they know all about immigration law and make fabulous claims and promises. Often they don't know anything about the law. They take hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars from people, truly desperate people, and they either do nothing, or they end up making a person's case much, much worse.
"At Christmas time, I get stacks and stacks of Christmas cards from former clients. All year long I get invitations to baptisms, bar mitzvahs, quinceñeras, you name it. All from families I've helped keep together. My calendar is full."