Paying It Forward: Creating Economic Opportunity for Immigrants

March 15, 2013

Imagine if you were transported to a foreign land, penniless, not knowing the native language, surrounded by foreigners who you’ve only seen in fatigues. With just one day’s warning, my mother packed up our meager belongings, my brothers and I who were 7, 3, and 2 years old at the time, and left behind her home and her third child. My parents struggled with the idea of leaving all they had, but they knew that the option of staying was not an option. My father who was a helicopter pilot for the South Vietnamese Air Force would be quarantined in a concentration camp if they had stayed.

Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975. On April 29, 1975, my father flew us out of Saigon while under fire from the Communists. Somehow, we made it in one piece to Thailand. From there, the Americans flew us to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

My parents didn’t know how they were going to build their lives in this foreign country, but they did know that they had hope. Hope for a better future in the land of opportunity.

LinkedIn Cooley Justice Bus Team

We were one of the lucky ones. Volunteers, complete strangers from Ramer, Tennessee came to us. Strangers who have never set eyes on Asians before opened up their hearts and gave us a chance -- a chance to make a better life for ourselves in their back yard.

With support and encouragement from my mother, my father enrolled into college at the age of 32. He received his Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma at the age of 36.  His education opened doors for all of us. My brothers are Chemical Engineers both with MBA’s; my third brother eventually made it to the States in 1990 and doubled majored in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I was fortunate to go to law school, hoping that one day I could help others.

When our General Counsel, Erika Rottenberg, asked for volunteers to head up LinkedIn’s pro bono legal program, I jumped at the chance. This was my opportunity to use my legal education to serve the under-served, to give back, and to pay it forward.

On an overcast day in March, LinkedIn joined Cooley, LLP and One Justice on the Justice Bus and to work with the Legal Aid of Napa Valley in Napa, California. Our mission was to complete the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) forms so that youth immigrants could have an opportunity to become legally employed in the United States.  We met 28 applicants, completed 28 applications, and created 28 opportunities for legal employment.

LinkedIn Cooley Trip Group

Just like the volunteers I met in 1975 who took it upon themselves to help an immigrant family start their lives over again in the United States, 23 volunteers took it upon themselves to help youth immigrants create economic opportunity for themselves and their families in the United States. I believe that we come to this great nation for economic opportunity and if we are fortunate enough, we may be able to help others become more productive and successful in their careers.

23 complete strangers opened up their hearts to 28 immigrants. At the end of the day, it was not the immigrants who truly benefited from our volunteer service, it was us.