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MICA Project Co-Founder’s Path to Immigration Law


MICA Project is an agency partner located in St. Louis. For the next few months follow its story here at #JVStories. This month, Co-Founder Jessica Mayo explains how the MICA Project came to be and the framework that the organization structure works from.

By Jessica Mayo

How it all started

When I was an intern, I observed a hearing for a woman who had her green card, but she had gotten involved in drugs, in large part due to her involvement in an abusive relationship.  For that reason, she was in removal (deportation) proceedings.  That woman won her case with the condition that any additional criminal convictions would lead to her deportation with no second chances. The following summer, I was working for a different organization, and we received an intake call for the same woman.

She was detained after another drug-related arrest. At this point, there was absolutely nothing left for a lawyer to do for her.  She had lived in the United States for more than a decade. Her spouse was a US citizen as were her children. Nicole and I agreed on a holistic approach of connecting our clients with resources beyond just legal representation.


Co-Founders Nicole Cortés and Jessica Mayo of the MICA Project

Client needs

When Nicole Cortés and I started the MICA Project, we had a vision of a different kind of legal services organization than the ones that we had seen.  The MICA Project works to break down divisions between its clients and ourselves. It seeks to remove barriers that prevent its clients from being given the dignity they deserve as human beings. We wanted to create a model that would allow us to work with people, rather than just for people.


Many of the clients that we work with do not have proper access to resources for things like domestic violence, drug recovery, work authorization, housing, or discrimination in their workplace or community. By neglecting these other areas of need, our clients have a higher chance of being subject to the same cycle that the woman from my internships was subjected to.


My experience within this work is that our nation is changing the ways that we treat immigrants. The MICA Project has a growth mindset, striving to meet as much of the changing need for immigration legal services as possible. We are continually astounded at how great the need is.  The MICA Project plans to continue to meet this need by expanding in staff as well as the programs that we are able to offer to our community. 

Our immigrant brothers and sisters

Photo from a march in St. Louis in that took place in February

The Bible tells us to “welcome the stranger,” and that motivates me to do the work that I do. We are all God’s children and I have no more value or right to security than someone who was born on the other side of a human-made border.  The United States has often contributed to the instability or poor economies of the countries from which many immigrants come.


I believe we have a moral responsibility to welcome them.  People wrongly assume that if undocumented individuals tried, they could obtain legal status.  On the other hand, if they had just followed the right procedures and waited in line, they could have come to the United States with legal status.  There is no option to obtain legal status for a huge number of immigrants. There are no lines for many, many people. In fact, many individuals do not qualify for any type of legal status under our current system. Despite how much money they pay or how well they speak English.


Immigration is not a threat

I do not believe that immigration is a threat to our economy or our security. In fact, I would say it is good for the economy and that immigrant communities have lower crime rates than theirs.  The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has published studies showing that refugees pose virtually no threat to the United States.  For more information and studies click here.



Vetting is already extremely intense, typically lasting at least 1-2 years.  One scholar and former official, Stephen Legomsky, stated that “no competent terrorist” would attempt to gain entry to the United States through the refugee program. However, even if one believes that immigrants pose a threat to our economy or security, I still believe that we have a moral obligation to experience some discomfort or threat—which is extremely, extremely minor— in order to provide for our neighbors in other countries who are fleeing from such extreme danger and poverty. 

Asylum seekers

People also wrongly assume that if someone were truly in danger, the United States government would not deport someone.  This is not true.  Asylum law, for people who fear persecution, is very limited.  There are many documented cases of people being killed soon after being deported, but the legal standard did not allow them to obtain asylum.

How to proceed

There are many ways for you to get involved in your community. Reach out to local organizations that are working to prepare immigrant communities for raids and increased enforcement.  Be a welcoming presence. Perhaps with gestures such as signs telling the immigrant community that we support them and appreciate their presence in our communities.


Sanctuary movement

The sanctuary movement in St. Louis is growing. It draws from the long tradition of sanctuary going back to the Underground Railroad, and even before that. Both churches and organizations can get involved.


Rapid response team

Additionally, the MICA Project is part of a growing raid response team.  As opportunities to participate and respond to communities in crisis times become available, we will be happy to share them.

Community event

Show your support. At a community event that the MICA Project hosted, a panel of immigrants shared how meaningful it was just for someone to say hello, to tell them they are welcome, or to offer assistance in some way. Show the immigrants in your neighborhood, workplace, or grocery store that you support them.


Be an advocate

Become an advocate. Contact your Senators and Representatives even though they may not be at the top of your list for exciting ways to get involved in the issue. But it is one of the most important. Learn about ways that you can use your voice to speak up for people that are often neglected, and do it at least once a week, if not every day.

Jessica Mayo is licensed to practice law in Missouri.  She specializes in family reunification cases and humanitarian issues.   She works with clients from across the globe, including Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.  She also has experience in legislative advocacy, organizing, communications, grant writing, working with donors, producing newsletters, planning events, and strategic planning initiatives. Mayo graduated first in her class from Washington University in St. Louis in May 2012 with her Juris Doctorate.