Mariana first came to Arizona as a foreign exchange student from Brazil. She returned to the U.S. after high school with plans to attend college. She was eligible for legal permanent residency but was still saving money for the expensive immigration fees when a routine traffic stop changed her life. 

This was during Joe Arpaio’s tenure as Maricopa County sheriff, when law enforcement illegally used racial profiling to targeted immigrants and interrogate them about their legal status. Upon learning that Mariana’s visa had expired, the police detained her. She was sent to ICE detention in Florence, Arizona. 

Mariana’s family hired a private attorney. However, the man didn’t show up to her hearing at the detention center court. Panicked, Mariana approached the only attorney in the courtroom who was defending people facing removal—a Florence Project staff attorney named Christina Powers. She advised Mariana on how to represent herself and request bond at a future hearing. Using this guidance, Mariana was released a few weeks later. She thanked Christina via email and received further information from the Florence Project attorney on how to petition for residency. (The attorney who disappeared on Mariana was later disbarred for abandoning clients.) 

Mariana went on to become a Florence Project donor, and during the 2018 family separation crisis, she began volunteering to translate documents for Florence Project clients from Brazil. These experiences compelled her to pursue a career in law. She was admitted to Syracuse Law School in 2018. She emailed Christina Powers to say: “You’re my inspiration. Hopefully I can help someone just like you helped me.”  

We are equally inspired by Mariana’s journey from immigration detention to law school graduation. 

She recently passed the bar and intends to practice family and immigration law in New York, and to continue supporting our mission as a donor and volunteer!  

“The Florence Project is an organization that truly embodies the spirit of compassion and dedication to justice,” Mariana says. “Their unwavering devotion to providing legal services to immigrants and refugees is a testament to their belief in every person’s inherent worth and dignity– regardless of their background or circumstances.” 

“Now, as a law graduate, I am inspired and committed to giving back to the community, just as the Florence Project did for me. Their work is truly invaluable, and I am forever grateful for their support.”