September 16, 2021
#MyImmigrationFuel – Amanda D’Angelo
Following Mr. Bellissimo’s recent blog post, I write this piece to share #MyImmigrationFuel.
Ever since I was young, immigration interested me. I was fortunate to be able to travel with my family throughout my childhood and experience different countries, cultures and meet new people. However, it wasn’t until I was in elementary school, that I learned what immigration truly meant. I remember as a homework assignment in my social sciences class my teacher asked us to explain our own immigration story. It is then when I realized, I did not know mine.
I went home looking for answers, and was told to call my Nonna (Grandma in Italian) who had immigrated from Italy in the 1950’s. When I called my Nonna, I did not get the happy story I was expecting; she explained the isolation, sadness and confusion she felt at the time. In the 1950’s air travel was expensive, so Nonna travelled to Canada on a boat. The total journey took her weeks, she had no guidance and did not know what to expect once she arrived in Canada. As a child, I admit, I do not think I fully understood what she had said. I went back to class the next day and did my presentation. One of my classmates presented the story of her family’s immigration to Canada, and explained they had fled from war in Iraq and were refugees. Looking back, stories like these are what sparked my career path.
Fast forward fifteen-years to my final year in the Paralegal Program at Sheridan College, where one of my mandatory classes was immigration and refugee law. I was excited to learn more about a subject that had always interested me. While in class, I remembered the stories my Nonna and others had told me in the past and decided I should pursue a career in immigration and refugee law. I did not want individuals to feel isolated and alone in the process of immigrating to Canada and wanted to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life.
A part of my program’s graduation requirements was to do a month-long placement at a law firm of our choosing. I did some research and found a boutique firm in Toronto specializing in refugee law. I contacted them and they agreed to let me do my placement there. At the time the firm partners had a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (“RCIC”) working with them. I worked with the RCIC on immigration related matters such as spousal sponsorships, but was really exposed to refugee law working under the firm partners. After my placement, I was offered a part-time role, which eventually turned into a full-time position. I was thrilled and grateful for the opportunity.
Within a few years, I had built strong relationships with my colleagues, interpreters as well as current and past clients. All of these people helped shape my career. I spent a lot of time observing the lawyers in hearings, preparing disclosure packages, doing country conditions research, conducting hearing preparations and doing the initial meetings with new clients. I felt I was ready to take on a client of my own and discussed this with one of the firm partners. An interpreter we worked closely with mentioned he had a new client and so I asked if he would be comfortable if I took his case. Without hesitation he agreed. I was ecstatic, I had been working so hard and was finally given the opportunity to show everything my mentors had taught me over the years. After many months, the hearing was scheduled.
On the day of my first hearing, I felt so nervous. When I arrived at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), I saw my Sheridan College professor in the elevator. She was now working as a Refugee Protection Division (RPD) Board Member. Seeing a familiar face, and one that was so instrumental to my education was uplifting. When I walked into the hearing room, all my nerves suddenly went away and I felt a sense of calm. I knew I was prepared and having the confidence of my client, colleagues and even professor made all the difference. The Member made a bench decision, and granted my client’s claim for refugee protection. I felt a wave of emotion and knew this was the right path for me. I spent over five years with the firm before joining Bellissimo Law Group PC (BLG PC) in September 2020.
My career in immigration and refugee law has truly been an eye-opening experience. Listening to the immigration stories of those close to me or even those I just met constantly change my perspective on life. Everyday someone provides the fuel to my learning and passion for immigration and refugee law, whether they know it or not. It can be a client, colleague, family member or friend. We take on a collaborative approach at BLG PC and my new colleagues have very quickly become my mentors. They give me the mentorship that is vital for success. I hope in the future, I can fill the same role for someone just starting their career and provide them with the confidence and fuel they need to succeed. #MyImmigrationFuel.