Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thanks, Richard Sandman

I met Richard Sandman (left) about five years ago in Queens as he was attending an immigration law workshop for immigrants with HIV. We'd corresponded through e-mail on immigration issues before but it was nice to put a face to the name.

As of late, Sandman, who often provided pro-bono work representing HIV positive and LGBT immigrants from an academic environment, had recently decided to launch his own private attorney practice.

I can't say that we were friends but over the years we developed a close professional relationship. He often reached out to me to see if I had country-specific documentation on abuses against HIV positive and LGBT individuals in certain Latin American countries and, more often than not, I was able to provide him with a wealth of information from my archives. He also would refer clients to me for advice on immigration issues and to facilitate sharing of information in cases that he was working on.

Last time I exchanged messages with Richard back in April, he had asked whether I had articles on Argentina. I'd saved a reminder to send him the information but had yet to get around to it. Yet, the reminder stared at me from time to time and made me feel guilty I still hadn't looked for stuff in my files. What made me feel at ease was that Richard was pretty good at reminding me if I still hadn't replied, knowing how overwhelmed I sometimes get at work, and - so far - he had not pressed for the info.

This is why it was such a shock to me to find out on Friday night that Richard, who was 46, had passed away on April 30th. He had been hospitalized on April 23d after suffering a massive heart attack and, though doctors seemed to think he might survive after a week in a coma, unfortunately he did not make it through.

A sweet low-key kinda guy who truly helped hundreds of HIV positive and LGBT immigrants gain political asylum in the United States, Richard was truly an unsung hero. He was somewhat comfortable with the Spanish language which surprised me a bit until I found out his family was from Mexico. Still, as always, he would underplay just how much Spanish he knew and was self-depreciating about his language abilities.

A mutual friend tells me he was so dedicated to his work that few people truly got to know him. By all accounts, though, many seemed to love the guy and recognize his unselfishness in dedicating his life's work to the issue of immigration.

So, thanks Richard, for dedicating your life to such an unprotected and maligned population. Thanks, Richard, for the many times you expressed admiration for my work. And, thanks, Richard, for inspiring others - including me - to keep doing what we do.

Too late to learn about a recent memorial in my case, friends set up a blog to update others on Richard's condition from the moment that he was hospitalized. You can read the entries and comments made by friends here.


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