New London immigration center welcomes new chief executive

New London — As Immigration Advocacy and Support Center founder Mike Doyle transitions to a new role in New Haven, longtime attorney and city resident Joe Marino has become the nonprofit's new chief executive.

Doyle, who launched the center in 2014, began searching for his successor last month after joining the Formica Williams law firm as a partner.

The center offers free legal services to those who can’t afford help — a mission Doyle himself crafted.

Now he’s moving into the private sector, where he’ll be in charge of matters including work visas, immigrant petitions and citizenship and green card applications.

Notably, Formica Williams represented Julian Rodriguez, a New London man who was slated for deportation despite his son’s rare genetic disease. Rodriguez has been in the country since 2000 and, until this year, had received multiple stays of deportation. Immigration officials granted him another stay Aug. 31 after he went public with his story.

Doyle also will help expand an immigration support team model from the shoreline to Norwich and Windham. The teams, consisting mostly of laypeople, take people seeking asylum to their appointments in Hartford and provide other support — tasks that don’t require lawyers and can eat up hours of lawyers’ time.

“I can be in the private world but can still be part of the movement,” Doyle said.

Doyle said the low salary and lack of benefits his former position offered made finding a replacement difficult. Doyle has veterans’ health care and may not have been able to open the center otherwise.

Closing the center “was a possibility we had to be honest about,” he said. “I was concerned for sure — New London doesn’t have this service except for us.”

Enter Marino, who “was bound and determined at this point in my career to put myself into public service full time.”

A New York City native, Marino has worked as a law clerk and a pro se staff attorney in federal courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Orleans. As the former, he was charged with researching and writing decisions in high-profile cases. As the latter, he helped people without lawyers understand how to keep their cases alive.

Marino also spent his teenage and young adult years in Cairo, Egypt, attending university and later overseeing the city’s first urban renewal project.

“We tend to live in bubbles,” he said, “but if you move to another bubble or even another part of the same bubble, you’ll see an entirely different world.”

The two met when Marino attended a talk Doyle gave at All Souls Unitarian Universalist in early August. Marino wanted to learn how he could help the center but had no idea Doyle was preparing to leave.

When Doyle called with a job opportunity a couple weeks later, Marino said he was "astonished."

Marino has health insurance through his husband, Mike Seeder, an Electric Boat employee he has been with for 13 years.

“Clearly there are going to be constraints financially,” said Marino, who started Sept. 1. “But for me at this point … I turned down a position where I would be making more than twice what I’m making here in order to take this because I felt passionately about this.”

Marino said his first step will be getting to know community leaders and ensuring the center’s work continues, though he hopes one day to expand.

Since it opened, the center, Doyle said, has hosted seven citizenship clinics and started between 70 and 90 applications, with about one-third accepted, one-third still in progress and another third on hold for various administrative matters.

The center has given free consultations to more than 500 individuals and families, Doyle said, giving advice on everything from how to get a green card to how to help a sick relative living abroad.

Doyle also takes pride in relationships the center developed with the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication, Connecticut College and, more recently, Mitchell College.

Students at Conn, for example, developed a fundraising model for the center to get real-world experience and raised more than $5,000 in one semester. ISAAC students received statewide recognition for their interactive book and traveling art gallery that benefited the center.

“I would have been sad, devastated” if the center had to close, Doyle said. “But I had no regrets because we have done so much.”

Doyle said the center has 55 open cases, most of which will be transferred to Marino. Doyle will keep a few that have been open for years and/or involve victims of domestic violence. He also will be around to help with the transition and will stay on the board “as long as they’ll have me.”

Marino said he’s used to quickly learning different aspects of the law because of his background in federal courts. Still, he has immersed himself in immigration law and plans to learn Spanish as soon as possible.

“I hear every time I’m introduced to someone new that I have very big shoes to fill,” Marino said. “I’m bound and determined to see that the brilliant work IASC has been doing over the past several years continues.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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