When invited a few years ago to be a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” immigration attorney Maria Jose Fletcher turned down the offer.
The rejection was one of kindness, she said, to respect the privacy of her clients, whom the show would’ve centered on.
Fletcher’s work is very sensitive. In 2011, she co-founded Vida Legal Assistance, a nonprofit dedicated to helping immigrant survivors of violent crimes — particularly domestic, sexual assault and human trafficking. As the only organization of its kind in South Florida, the work is demanding, too.
And for Fletcher, it’s also fulfilling.
“Some people do things for money, other people do things because they’re passionate about what they do,” said her husband Michael Fletcher, a food -and-beverage manager at a Coral Gables condominium. “Her world is helping people.”
Earlier this year, one of Fletcher’s former clients nominated her to be recognized by the nonproft ONE Campaign, an international project formed by U2 frontman Bono to advocate against extreme poverty and preventable diseases.
The recognition would come June 11 at U2’s concert at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
During the concert, Bono gave a speech and showed a short film focusing on the mission of the ONE Campaign. Then, Fletcher’s photo was projected on the big screen, centered among portraits of Winfrey, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and philanthropist Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They were featured in a five-minute montage of historic women, as U2 performed “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).”
“Seeing my face among all these other amazing women, who are my role models, I was very humbled,” Fletcher told the Miami Herald. “I didn’t feel that I should have been there. I was very impressed by it and I still can’t believe that they put my name and picture there.”
She also got to meet Bono backstage. According to Michael, it was as if the two were longtime friends — once introduced, the conversation flowed freely.
Said her husband, who accompanied her to the concert: “She has always had a vision of dedicating her time, knowledge and career to people in need. ... It was really just a great honor.”
Fletcher said she was honored by the nomination, especially because it came from a former client. At first, she didn’t think it was real, receiving the news on a Friday afternoon two days before the concert.
Noting that their songs were “connected to some reality in the United States or the world,” Fletcher found Bono’s high level of engagement welcoming.
“I think [U2’s] connection to social change and being conscious of what’s happening in the world, makes me feel more respectful of who they are as professionals in the music industry,” she said.
Fletcher, who finished law school in her 30s, said that since the concert she has felt even more empowered to continue her immigration work.
Her group Vida Legal Assistance has developed relationships with the U.S. State Department and other federal agencies. Traveling across the states and abroad, Fletcher has shared ideas and spread awareness about how to properly treat immigrant survivors of violence.
“Don’t get me wrong, I get tired,” she said. “But this is one life. You want to go to sleep and say ‘I did something.’”
She doesn’t expect to see violence disappear in her lifetime, or in the lifetimes of her three children.
That doesn’t deter her from trying to eradicate it.
Fletcher said that through the years she has represented many victims of horrific violence, cases that showed “humanity’s power to commit bad things.”
Fletcher’s line of work — which she says demands “a capacity to listen and be non-judgmental” — ensures survivors will come out stronger, just as the client who nominated her did.
“It’s not about winning the case, it’s about how this person understands justice and how I’m going to get justice for this person,” she said. “We’re not doing this for us, we’re doing it for the community, [for] who we’re working with.”