Patty Hernandez ’92: Helping Ohio’s Migrant Workers
Patty Hernandez ’92 has a passion for helping others. In particular, she has successfully built a 16-year career in immigration law, working to aid migrant farm workers in Ohio. As an attorney in the Toledo, Ohio, office of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. (ABLE), Patty works to improve the rights and conditions for farm workers in Ohio.
Patty knew she had a strong desire to work in public interest law when she graduated from law school at Ohio State and started at ABLE in 1992. “At that time ABLE was one of the leading legal service organizations in the country providing services to migrant farm workers,” she said.
When she first started at ABLE, she was surprised at the breadth of services necessary to adequately assist migrant farm workers and immigrants. “I thought of farm-worker law as involving mainly employment law, but there are so many other issues farm workers and immigrants need assistance with, including access to education and adequate living conditions,” Patty said.
In addition, Patty also provides assistance to clients seeking to become U.S. citizens. And while she still finds her work with immigration law rewarding, she recently decided to expand her legal practice further. Since mid-2007, she has worked for ABLE’s Legal Aid Line, a service that allows clients to contact ABLE and speak directly with attorneys about matters that often require immediate action. As part of her work at Legal Aid Line, which Patty likens to a “legal emergency room,” she still deals with immigration cases, has begun work on housing cases, and hopes to soon add domestic relations cases.
“I love immigration work,” Patty said. “But I’m really excited by the opportunity to try something completely different, and the Legal Aid Line offers me that challenge. I’m glad I made the change.”
ABLE particularly benefits from Patty’s involvement with Legal Aid Line because of her ability to speak Spanish and her experience in immigration law. “Telephone and web-based brief advice and service programs like Legal Aid Line are an emerging trend in legal services around the country. At the same time, immigration is becoming a major issue for more and more people. We didn’t have an immigration-focused attorney on the Legal Aid Line staff before I joined the team. It’s nice to meet that need while still learning other areas of law,” Patty said.
As a native of South Texas, Patty noted that moving to Ohio for law school required some adjustment. She credits her Ohio State professors for helping as she prepared for her career in Ohio.
“Law school for me, having grown up in Texas and then moving to Ohio, was a bit of a culture shock,” she said. “I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community. When I went to law school in Ohio, I was very much in the minority. It was a bit intimidating. But my professors were always very open, supportive, and happy to answer any questions I had. And that helped.”
Throughout her career — both as an attorney focusing on immigration law and now working with clients through ABLE’s Legal Aid Line — Patty’s work makes a positive impact on the lives of her clients. The personal interaction and satisfaction, she said, have been the highlight of her career.
“The best part of my job is talking with clients and being able to give them immediate advice that they need,” she said. “Being able to reassure them, for example, that ‘no, your landlord cannot lock you out today. He has to go to court and follow certain procedures. He hasn’t done that so you’re entitled to stay in your home.’ It’s just helping real people with issues that help them to stabilize their lives. That’s what I love the most about my job -- using my law degree to help people who really need it.”