When people think of Samoans and indigenous Pacific Islanders (Pasifika), they tend to think of athletes, entertainers, and The Rock. Much less often they picture lawyers, doctors, and engineers. This makes it special news to learn of Pasifika lawyers like Leah Tuisavalalo, who runs a law group and serves the community at large.
What is her connection to the South Pacific?
Leah Tuisavalalo was born in Connecticut. Her father is from New York, and her mother is from Western Samoa. Her mother’s father comes from the Wendt family in Lefaga, and her mother’s mother comes from the Patu family in Vaiola.
Ms. Tuisavalalo lived in Connecticut until her freshman year of high school, when her dad became the Country Director for the Peace Corp in Western Samoa. As a result, she spent her high school years in Western Samoa. Afterward, she attended and graduated from University of Hawai’i in Manoa.
After graduating, she moved back to the mainland and attended law school. She received her law degree from Santa Clara University of Law in 2007. She lived in Redwood City, California, and loved her Santa Clara life. However, it was expensive to continue living in that area. With a law degree under her belt, she moved to Fresno, California, otherwise known as the Central Valley, to live closer to her husband’s family.
What is her Legal Practice?
After Ms. Tuisavalalo passed the California bar exam, she started off doing contract work. Her mother-in-law shared her resume with the Polynesian community in Fresno. This networking led to interviews and various opportunities to work for law firms. In fact, she worked for two of the largest immigration firms in Fresno, before starting her own practice with her partner. This empowered Ms. Tuisavalalo to make a difference by serving the Pacific Islander community.
She founded Pasifika Immigration Law Group, LLP . This company is a full-service immigration law firm, located in downtown Fresno, California. Their attorneys have extensive experience in all areas of immigration law, as well as criminal law as it relates to immigration issues. They speak Spanish, Russian, and Samoan. They offer in-person consultations and appointments in the Fresno, San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, as well as in Salt Lake City, Utah by appointment.
Pasifika Immigration Law Group, LLP hosts workshops that are legal based, such as residency, citizenship, and legal forms. (Inside tip - it is a red flag when the applicant’s name is not on the legal form.)
What are some issues that Pacific Islanders face?
Some immigrant Pacific Islanders face stigma because they do not have legal documentation. During tourist season, some islanders travel to the mainland but do not go back to their island home in time. Then they fear returning home because they will be barred from visiting the United States again. In situations like this, they need assistance with information, remedies, and legal documentation.
Another issue concerning the Tongan community is their vulnerability to the fraud of adult adoption regarding immigration. Some undocumented immigrants fell victim to the promise of citizenship through adult adoption. People who found themselves in this situation needed information about the proper steps for naturalization and remedies.
A more common issue for Pacific Islanders is not wanting to ask for help because of various challenges. Some people do not have the money for the legal resources that are available to them, and they experience shame because of this stigma. Others do not know that they need legal assistance, because their situation is so unfamiliar, and so unlike their ways back home. Quite simply, they do not understand the law and norms of a foreign society. The workshops that Pasifika Immigration Law Group, LLP offers the community help overcome these obstacles by educating the people and providing valuable resources and solutions.
What are some Recommendations for Pasifika Law Students?
Ms. Tuisavalalo recommends internships for law students because the internships provide valuable experience. The experience is hands-on which makes it practical. Internships lead to mentorship and training. Also, internships allow students to meet other practicing attorneys, thus expanding their network.
What are some Recommendations for Pasifika Lawyers?
She recommends striking a life “balance” between family and work. This balance is valuable for preventing burn out and increasing productivity. Young lawyers may be tempted to put their own needs aside, but they must resist that temptation and practice self-care.
Ms. Tuisavalalo estimates that other Pacific Islander attorneys, and potential attorneys, may want advice. For that reason, she believes there is a need for an organization for Pasifika lawyers to share resources and information.
Leah Tuisavalalo is a Pasifika lawyer who cares about the community. Her law group is a valuable resource for the Pacific Islander community, because often our community is underserved and forgotten. As a result, we should celebrate the success of community members, and promote the good work that these members do.
You can contact Pasifika Immigration Law Group, LLP through any method.
PHONE (559) 441-9400
FAX (559) 441-9401
ADDRESS Pasifika Immigration Law Group, LLP
923 Van Ness Ave, Suite 100
Fresno, CA 93721