The bard and the barrister
Iris Gomez reaches heights in serving immigrants, writing poetry

Issue July 2004 By Andrea Barter, Esq.

Photo by David Spink
Attorney Iris Gomez finds inspiration for her poetry at the Blue Hills Reservation.
While attorneys are expected to be skillful writers, not many could craft a motion in iambic pentameter. Although she hasn't been put to this test, Iris Gomez is among the few legal professionals who could likely pull it off.

Gomez leads a double life: dedicated immigration attorney by day, poet by night. She has diligently and successfully pursued both creative outlets, winning awards in both fields.

In 1999, Gomez received the Massachusetts Bar Association's Legal Services Award. This award honors an attorney employed by a public or nonprofit agency who has provided civil legal services to low-income clients, and who has made a particularly significant or meaningful contribution to the provision of low-income legal services, above and beyond the requirements of her position.

In 2001, an autobiographical collection of her poetry received second prize in the prestigious Chicano/Latino Literary Prize competition sponsored by the University of California at Irvine.

In 2002, she received the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys' "Las Primeras Award," which honors prominent women who have uniquely contributed to the Latino community through their vision and leadership.

Public service

Gomez has dedicated her professional career to public service, serving as legal services attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services for nearly 10 years, where her efforts included the refocusing of GBLS's immigration law priorities.

For 12 years, she has been a staff attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute where she provides support to lawyers who represent immigrants, such as advice, training, written material and co-counseling. She also advocates for better regulations and policies from federal immigration agencies, and prepares amicus briefs on significant cases.

Further, Gomez has worked to educate legal services advocates throughout Massachusetts who do not specialize in immigration law on the potential impact on their clients of immigration issues. She was instrumental in developing the Boston Bar Association Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, which provides access to pro bono representation for immigrants who have pending cases with the Department of Homeland Security and are unable to pay for an attorney. She also works with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Advocacy Coalition and was instrumental in encouraging collaborations among a variety of agencies serving the immigrant or refugee population to make better use of limited resources.

In addition, Gomez is chair of the Board of Directors for the National Immigration Law Center. Since 1979, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has been dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of low-income immigrants and their family members. In the past 20 years, NILC has earned a national reputation as a leading expert on immigration, public benefits and employment laws affecting immigrants and refugees.

Currently, Gomez is co-counsel for a nationwide class action challenging the way the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the process for individuals granted political asylum to become permanent residents. The government has appealed a summary judgment for the plaintiffs that held that the federal government was misinterpreting the law and misadministering the program to the detriment of the class of approximately 150,000 asylees nationwide.

Gomez has a strong belief in social justice and equality, and her commitment to her work flows from those values. Her passion, in part, is due to the fact that she herself was an immigrant.

When Gomez was 5 years old, her parents moved the family to the United States from Cartagena, Colombia, to seek better economic opportunities for their children.

Her parents had problems with integration because of language barriers and unfamiliarity with American culture. As a result, Gomez says she "learned early on that poverty and immigration status were two barriers to equality."

After law school, she went into legal services and has spent most of career in legal services and has done some kind of immigration work most of that time.

Gomez says that her mother is very proud of her. Laughing, she added, "For many years she was puzzled as to why I didn't go into a more lucrative law practice, but she has come to accept that choice."

Private reflections

Gomez says she has always been interested in poetry and has been writing since she was a teenager. She put her legal career first, but after practicing a few years, decided to pursue an MFA in poetry. While still working full time, Gomez obtained her MFA at Vermont College.

Her forthcoming book, When Comets Rained, contains poems about her childhood, growing up as a Latina in the U.S. after having immigrated here.

Gomez says the book, which will be published later this year, contains "lots of poems about family and memory and loss, which is at the core of immigrant reality."

While her life experiences inform her poetry, she also finds inspiration in nature.

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