Catherine “Cate” Scenna joined PBRC in 2015 and serves as the Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project Manager. Cate is responsible for recruiting, training, and mentoring volunteer attorneys for the statewide Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project. Cate is also responsible for coordinating the Project’s courthouse clinics where volunteer attorneys meet with immigrants to identify legal arguments they can make in their deportation proceedings and provide information about obtaining pro bono representation.
Catherine “Cate” Scenna se unió al PBRC en 2015 y sirve como la Directora del Proyecto de Asistencia Legal para Inmigrantes en Maryland. Cate es responsable de reclutar, entrenar y aconsejar a los abogados voluntarios que apoyan el Proyecto. Cate también es responsable de coordinar las clínicas de corte del Proyecto en las cuales abogados voluntarios se reúnen con menores no-acompañados para identificar argumentos legales que puedan utilizar en sus procedimientos de deportación y para proveer información acerca de cómo encontrar representación pro bono.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Westhampton Beach, NY. Stop rolling your eyes at me. Yes, I am from “the Hamptons,” but, no, my life was nothing like what you might have seen on “Kourtney and Khloe Take The Hamptons” or “Revenge.” Apart from the beaches though… I do have to admit the beaches are just as beautiful as they look on TV and I was definitely spoiled to grow up a five minute drive from the ocean.
What brought you to Maryland/Baltimore?
Love. My college sweetheart is originally from Maryland, and got a job down here while I was in law school. Once I finished law school, I followed him to Baltimore. Baltimore was never on my list of places to live growing up, but now that I live here, I could not imagine living anywhere else. I live in the city, and love walking along the promenade around the inner harbor each evening. (Oh and that college sweetheart? He is my husband now so I guess it was a good decision to follow him here).
Where did you go to school and what was your major/focus?
I graduated with a bachelors in Psychology at The Catholic University of America. I got my juris doctor from Fordham University. While in law school, I focused on Health Law. My first internship was perhaps the most unusual position I have held in my entire career. I represented individuals who were involuntarily committed to inpatient treatment at one of NYC’s psychiatric centers.
What are your interests/hobbies?
One of my favorite things to do is Ballroom Dance. I would have to say that Foxtrot is maybe my favorite of all of the kinds of dance, but salsa is the easiest to find in the city. Once upon a time I knew the Waltz, Tango, Quickstep, Cha Cha, Rhumba, and Samba. Although, I think that if you were to ask my dance shoes, they might tell you that I have not been in quite some time. They (my shoes) are a little bit jealous of my running sneakers right now.
How did you connect with PBRC?
Before working at PBRC, I had taken some pro bono trainings through them and volunteered a bit with the Homeless Persons Representation Project and Senior Legal Services of Baltimore City.
What were you doing prior to working here?
I represented people who could not work and were applying for Social Security benefits.
What do you do at PBRC?
I manage the Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project. This means I am in immigration court twice a week teaching unaccompanied immigrant children and families in removal proceedings about the claims they can make to stay in the United States.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do what I call “volunteer for a living.” I am the most proud about the work I do here at PBRC. When I started at PBRC in 2015, I did not know whether my job was going to last for more than ten months. A cadre of attorneys had been trained in immigration law a couple of months before I started, but the volunteer clinic at immigration court was an entirely new thing for PBRC and the Baltimore Immigration Court. Now, four and a half years later, I have 1.5 other PBRC employees on my team, and an amazing group of volunteer attorneys and interpreters who join us at the court (some people volunteering once a week).
What motivates you?
Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” is the ultimate “pump up song.” There is something about the message of the lyrics – “Let all the dreamers wake the nation” and “It’s asking for the taking.” And the notes (chords?) she chooses for those lyrics for the multiple voices that sing with her in the recording is uplifting. I am sure that people more studied in music composition than I could explain it more clearly. Just listen to it. You will feel hope. The message is a bit infectious.
What has been your most meaningful experience with PBRC?
While trying to answer this question, the faces and histories of various clients come to mind. It is ridiculously hard to pick the one which has the most meaning to me, but I think I will always remember one woman in particular. During the course of our conversation about her asylum case, I congratulated her for something she had accomplished, and offered her a high five. She began to cry, and told me I did not know what I had just done. I panicked. I thought I had let the humanity of our conversation get in the way of my “lawyer mode,” and that I had accidentally harmed my client as a result. She then thanked me. It was the first time anyone in her life had actually congratulated her for accomplishments. Previously, these accomplishments had been the reason for her persecutors to go after her. She was grateful to receive recognition for them, even if she had to wait for a complete stranger to give her that recognition. First off, I cannot imagine having had to go through what she had experienced. But, second, I think that this moment will always serve as a reminder that even the littlest things can matter.
Tell us a random fact about yourself.
When I was little, I used to want to grow up to be a fire truck.