Julie Ferguson was a young immigration lawyer in Coral Gables when she joined a team of local attorneys and lawyers from Amnesty International to help the family of a Chilean economist murdered by the secret police of then-military leader Augusto Pinochet.
In 1999, the family had sued a Miami businessman they said was responsible for the October 1973 slaying. They looked to Ferguson, then 32. The woman who had dreamed of becoming an immigration attorney since she was a little girl found herself working the first lawsuit in the United States against a member of the Pinochet regime.
Though the court ruled against the family in 2001, Ferguson had made a name for herself in the field of immigration law.
Ferguson died in Washington, D.C., on April 21, after an accident indoors while attending a conference of Invest in the USA (IIUSA), an advocacy event for the EB-5 investor visa program. She was 49.
“Julie was a highly skilled, determined and compassionate immigration lawyer. She cared deeply about her clients and fought for them relentlessly,” fellow immigration attorney Roger Bernstein said in an obituary. “She was a tenacious litigator” who “excelled in the area of asylum law.”
The accident is still under investigation, according to her mother, Marilyn Ferguson.
“She had a calling to help people in the immigrant community with immigration,” Ferguson said. “The few times she didn’t win cases she was distraught because a child was taken away from the mother and sent back. She had a lot of passion for people. That’s why she was such a wonderful attorney.”
Born in Lake Forest, Illinois, on March 15, 1967, Ferguson earned her bachelor’s in philosophy and economics from the University of Geneva in 1989. She then earned her law degree from American University Washington College of Law.
She spoke five languages — English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, her mother said, and wrote the handbook, AILA’s Focus on Waivers Under the Immigration and Nationality Act in 2008. “She was a woman of the world,” her mother said.
She met her future husband, Oriano Galloni, a marble sculptor from Carrara, Italy, in Miami when she was hired to represent him. The two wed on a catamaran off Miami in 2013.
Ferguson was involved with Flying High for Haiti, which supports a community school on the island of Île-à-Vache. She also volunteered in Miami and Cuba with Alternatives to Violence Project, an organization that works in prisons globally to teach inmates peaceful conflict resolution.
“She helped so many people. She did pro-bono work for the first half of her career. We said, ‘Julie, you have to pay for a house.’ She was always willing to work for people and make an impact on everything,” said her mother.
In addition to her husband and mother, Ferguson is survived by her father, Roy Ferguson, and brother Roy Ferguson Jr. Services will be held on May 14 in Greenville, Michigan. A celebration of life is in the planning stages for early June in Miami. Donations in Ferguson’s name can be made to Flying High for Haiti or Americans for Immigrant Justice.