Orlando lawyer Camila Pachon Silva is all about paying it forward.
Silva immigrated to Orlando from Bogota, Colombia with her parents and brother when she was in high school. While she says that they were lucky to have family and friends to support them in the United States, the immigration process is complicated and difficult to navigate.
“We actually had our interview with immigration the day after September 11, 2001,” Silva recalled. “September 11 really changed the country as to how immigration law was going to be implemented. And I think for the immigrant community, things have only gotten worse.”
That’s why she became an attorney. After graduating from UCF, she attended the University of Florida’s law school. After working at a non-profit law firm for a few years, she found it difficult to take on immigration cases–her passion–because of limited funding and other resources.
So with some grant money from the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, she started Capella Immigration Law in June 2017, a law firm that focuses solely on immigration work. That means her cases range from investors looking to start businesses, to deportation cases, to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Silva is seeing an increase of immigrant business owners looking for opportunities in the Orlando because she feels the Miami market is saturated and so many of them are looking further north.
According to a 2017 report, immigrants made up 61.6 percent of business owners in South Florida. In Orlando, immigrants accounted for 23.7 percent of business owners and state-wide, immigrant business owners are an estimated 30 percent of all self-employed Floridians, generating $5.6 billion in business income.
She knows how hard it can be for clients to approach a lawyer and ask for help, so she meticulously staffs her practice. Her associate attorney is an immigrant from Jamaica, while other support staff are either immigrants from Latin America or first-generation Americans.
“I think it always helps when you have been in the client’s shoes and you know how stressful and how difficult the process really is to come to the United States,” Silva said. “And besides the cultural shock, and getting adapted to a new country, and learning a new language, there’s also of course the legal hurdle.”
Silva said she finds her work incredibly rewarding, despite the challenges. While deportation cases are difficult because a person’s life is at risk, she finds that she’s able to give immigrants like herself peace of mind.
“There are people who have been in this country for decades, and they have been working, but they have been living in the shadows,” Silva said. “The ability to get a work permit, the ability to get a driver’s license – something that you and I may just take for granted – the ability to drive to work without being worried that you’re going to get pulled over at any minute…something as simple as a driver’s license can really make an impact for these people and they are very grateful for it.”