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Attorneys of the Year: David Wilson

In the words of his nominator, David Wilson has built a small arsenal of attorneys to pursue a shared passion for justice for immigrants to this country.

Last year, that included winning permanent residency for a Chinese woman whose case had passed through numerous attorneys and layers of government since 1994. His firm, Wilson Law Group of Minneapolis, also won asylum status for a woman who fled Eritrea for fear her Pentecostal faith would mark her for death.

In a published 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, it meant reversing the deportation of a Mexican man who, in 2006 at the age of 18, had resisted arrest by curling into the fetal position. An immigration judge had ruled that Jose Socorro Ortiz’s conviction for obstructing the legal process constituted an “aggravated felony” because it was a “crime of violence,” according to court documents. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and Ortiz has returned to his family in Minnesota, according to Wilson.

He and his colleagues are in their second year of working with the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul on its Program of Legal Assistance to Mexicans. They filed suit in January over working conditions of Mexican carnival workers here on temporary visas.

“He has been absolutely helpful, committed, close to the needs of the workers, and he’s helping us with a child-custody suit right now,” said Mexican consul Alberto Fierro.

Wilson also authored two chapters of the Minnesota CLE’s Immigration Law Desk Book, and educates non-lawyers about immigration law.

He provided pro bono immigration representation to the Children’s Law Center for three children in need, and has helped a county attorney’s office to counsel prospective parents about adopting an immigrant child out of foster care and securing citizenship for the child.

Wilson has worked with state prosecutors and the federal government to bring witnesses from abroad back to testify in major felony cases. He has been co-counseling a complex case in Houston County with the University of Minnesota Civil Litigation Clinic to represent a mother and two children who are suing a relative for allegedly trying to make them indentured servants in a family-owned hotel.

Wilson acknowledged that he could practice in a more lucrative area of the law, but that’s not where his heart is.

“I get rewarded in human capital, in seeing the impact that we can have on an individual’s life and what they can make of that opportunity,” he said.

Wilson said his parents were very poor. His father joined the Navy to escape poverty in Mississippi.  His mother came from a family of roustabouts who worked at wildcat oil wells in Texas and Oklahoma. Wilson grew up humbly.

“I was the first person in my respective families to go to college, let alone law school,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to pay it forward in helping other families to break that cycle.

“Government’s got a place, but someone’s got to stand up for someone else, too,” he continued. “I’m very fortunate that I’m surrounded by people who also buy into that philosophy.”

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