This month I am honored to feature consumer bankruptcy attorney extraordinaire, Sandra Navarro-Garcia, for our SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit with us, Sandra. First off, please tell our readers about yourself. What sort of cases do you handle in your practice?
A: My pleasure, Elina. Thank you for having me. I handle consumer bankruptcy cases, both chapter 7 and chapter 13. I’ve always been dedicated to helping people who find themselves in financial trouble get a fresh start. Having overwhelming debt is not only burdensome from the financial aspect, but it can have devastating emotional and physical effects on a person and their loved ones.
Q: What prompted you to become an attorney?
A: As a child of Cuban immigrants and watched how often members of our community were taken advantage of due their lack of language or the law. I liked to help and often served as a translator and in many cases negotiator of problem. I realized I enjoyed helping others and decided at a young age I would pursue a legal career. As to the bankruptcy area that I primarily practice in, I admittedly “fell” into this area of law by sheer coincidence. But it was certainly a match made in heaven. I really enjoy being a consumer bankruptcy attorney. I don’t love the situations that bring my clients in through the door. However, I do love that when they walk out of my office they feel a sense of relief and have a plan of action to face their financial problems. They can breathe again and not worry that everything is lost or that the end is upon them due to their financial problems.
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I am passionate about all types of bankruptcy cases and will do a simple chapter 7 with as much vigor as I will a chapter 13 where the client is seeking to save his or her home. I have been practicing now for a little over 17 years in the bankruptcy arena and can confirm that no two cases are the same, they are all different in their own way. There is a great sense of accomplishment and peace that I get when I know I have helped my client successfully navigate their bankruptcy because it equals their peace of mind and well-being.
Q: What is the difference between a Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
A: Chapter 7 seeks to liquidate the debt a person has at the time they file their case. This chapter is most often used by Clients who do not have a high income or many assets. You are required to appear for a meeting of creditors and thereafter if all is approved in your case you will receive a discharge order. A chapter 7 normally takes approximately three months from beginning to end. Chapter 13 seeks to reorganize debt. It is most commonly used to save real property from foreclosure or cars from repossessions as the Client does a repayment plan for the creditors through the court. It is often also used to deal with IRS debt, strip down/off mortgages on real property or if a person has substantial income and/or assets to deal with creditors in a way that is reasonable so that the person can get their life back on track. A chapter 13 can last from three to five years depending on the repayment plan selected.
Q: How do you know which chapter is best for a Client?
A: I sit with every client and go over all of their assets, debts and what they hope to accomplish. Each case is different and must be handled accordingly. Often times a client comes in with an idea of what they want to do, but don’t realize they can’t accomplish that in a particular chapter. It is very important to me to educate my client so he or she knows exactly why they are filing for a particular chapter versus another.
Q: Do you find some of your clients are preoccupied with their immigration status in conjunction with bankruptcy proceedings? If so, why so?
A: Absolutely. Given, that we live in a very culturally diverse city it is not rare for me to be asked if filing for bankruptcy will affect the outcome of their immigration matters. Having financial difficulties compounded with the worry of not being granted citizenship and possibly facing deportation is a very stressful situation for a client to face. A client who is in the United States legally can file for bankruptcy relief without affecting his or her immigration matters. Bankruptcy is a legal course of action to deal with financial problems, there is nothing illegal or improper about filing a bankruptcy from a legal standpoint.
Q: What happens if the person is not here legally?
A: If the person is not in the United States legally, then filing for bankruptcy could have an adverse effect on their immigration proceedings. A person filing for bankruptcy who is not legally in the United States could be subject to being reported to the INS or detainment as at the end of the day they are walking into federal court.
Q: Should out of status individuals be afraid of appearing in bankruptcy court?
A: The filing of the bankruptcy will require an appearance at a meeting of creditors and possibly other hearings in a federal judicial setting. That said there is cause for concern or fear by an out of status individual because they can be picked up while attending the court proceeding, that is definitely a possibility. Unfortunately, for these individuals it will be best to clarify their status first before proceeding to file for bankruptcy relief.
Q: What sort of immigration “issues” do you keep in mind when representing someone in bankruptcy court proceedings?
A: First and foremost whether or not my client is in fact a citizen, legal resident or has legal status in this country. US Citizen’s and legal residents are afforded many protections within the bankruptcy system. If a client is not here legally he or she will not be entitled to these protections and that could mean a significantly different case for them as far as how they will deal with their creditors. The other big immigration related or I should say immigrant related issue is what assets that person owns in their own native land or elsewhere. Many times clients will not let me know regarding property they own outside the United States believing that since it is outside of the United States it does not count as an asset. It certainly counts and must be disclosed, otherwise it is an omission that could be perceived as intent to hide assets and defraud your creditors and could lead to the denial of your bankruptcy discharge order. It is always important to disclose all assets in your bankruptcy petition, even if owned outside of the United States.
Q: What do you like best about your work?
A: I love that I can help my clients get their lives back on track. Often people come to see me distraught, lacking many night of sleep, some even with tears in their eyes over their financial problems. Financial problems have a huge impact on all aspects of a person’s life. Financial problems can bring about strains in the husband/wife and parent/child relationships, thus leading to further problems for a person. Nothing brings me greater joy than helping a person see that there is a solution to the financial crisis they are facing. To show a client that yes indeed you can save your home from foreclosure and continue with your business and for that matter with your life while still dealing with your financial responsibilities is a great joy to me. I am very passionate about walking people back from that point where they feel they have been broken with no possibility of repair and showing them there is in fact hope. In all my years of practice I have never had a client come in to my office happy that they are filing for bankruptcy. My clients come from all walks of life. I have clients in the field of teaching, law enforcement, medicine, construction, students, and legal and they all share the characteristic that they are embarrassed to have to be filing for bankruptcy and that they wish they could pay back everything they owed, but they simply can’t. I help these folks realize that filing for bankruptcy does not make them a “bad” person and that the filing of a bankruptcy is a legal process to deal with their financial problems. For some folks, I must recommend against filing for bankruptcy and offer alternative ways in which to deal with their debt in order for them to have the best outcome both in their financial and personal lives. Finding the right solution for each client and helping them get back on track is definitely the best part of my job!
Q: How can our subscribers reach you for a consultation?
A: Subscribers can contact me anytime to seek a complementary consultation regarding their bankruptcy concerns. Worrying about financial problems will not resolve them, the best thing a person can do is get informed about the options available to them. A bankruptcy may or may not be the right solution for the financial troubles your subscriber could be facing, but they won’t know unless they get a full evaluation of the situation. That is what I present to them, options. Once your subscriber walks out of my office they will know if bankruptcy is the right decision to get them back on financial track or if in fact they should pursue other avenues in order to deal with their financial problems. I challenge your subscribers who are facing any sort of financial difficulties to at least learn of the options available to them. The consultation is complementary; thus, your subscribers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking advantage of meeting with me and realizing what options they have. The worst thing anyone can do when facing a financial crisis is quite frankly to do nothing. If any subscriber wants to get in touch me to schedule their consultation they can call of me, (305) 264-7587.
Thank you, Sandra, for sharing your knowledge with our subscribers. This is Elina signing off until next month’s spotlight interview. Have a great month!