"In life, you have to know where you come from, but you also have to know where you're going; I really believe that."
Denise Bent-Sanker has lived by the motto quoted above for the majority of her life. Though immensely proud of her Afro-Latina and Caribbean heritages, Denise believes firmly in the importance of acculturation as well. "You absolutely have to learn to understand the language and the culture of the place you've settled in if you are going to have any chance at success," she emphasizes. For many years, Denise put these words into practice as an instructor of English as a Second Language courses for newly arrived immigrant and refugee children and adults. However, through her work she learned that her clients' needs extended far beyond the classroom walls.
Several of her clients had difficulty navigating the complex maze of immigration law required to adjust legal statuses, obtain work permits and citizenship, seek asylum, file for spouses or other relatives remaining in their home countries, and more. Some were successful at obtaining assistance from legal clinics and/or private firms. However, scheduling issues, meager finances and/or lack of English proficiency limited access for many others, and their legal needs went unaddressed.
Seeing these needs, Denise pursued a career in immigration law advocacy. She wears multiple hats within her small non-profit firm, including certified BIA representative, paralegal, and legal research associate, securing pro-bono attorneys to aid her clients and working closely to resolve their needs. Aware of the varied needs of the populations that she works with, Denise maintains an open door policy and flexible hours, even if that means seeing a client on a Saturday afternoon because their job doesn't permit them to come on the weekdays.
Another aspect of acculturation that Denise feels strongly about is entrepreneurship. Her experience operating an in-home child care business during her children's younger years convinced her that home-based and/or small business ventures could be a viable option for immigrant and refugee groups, especially women with small children, larger families, and/or those with less educational and/or work experience. As such, she wrote and was awarded a micro enterprise grant to identify, train, and mentor women, grooming them into business owners. She is currently working on a similar project aimed at developing vocational opportunities for young males with developmental disabilities and juvenile offenders.
A proud single mother of three, Denise hopes to encourage others to pursue their dreams and advocate for themselves and others.