ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – From South Africa to the Capital Region, a local attorney has led a remarkable life, but it is her work to help those seeking asylum find safety that led to her nomination as a “Remarkable Woman.”

“Ever since I was very young I knew that I wanted to be involved with human rights issues,” Lisa Mendel says, and as an immigration attorney, she finds herself advocating for refugees every day. “Not only have they been through so much, trauma torture, multiple family members being killed, people being kidnapped, horrific things, but then trying to navigate a system where it can be very dehumanizing and soul destroying for them and for the people fighting for them.”

These are complex cases that can take years, but she is passionate about helping those hoping to find freedom because, “Ultimately because you are really fighting for someone’s right to survive and not be sent back to be killed. So many indigenous peoples are being targeted in so many countries by violence. The indigenous people are the most vulnerable that’s a lot of my clients.”

While translators help ensure clients’ complete understanding in the courtroom, Lisa continues to help immigrants outside the legal profession. She teaches weekly English classes at Margarita City where she’d been taking Latin dance classes, a way to give back after she says she found joy and happiness in the vibrant culture.

Lisa notes, “For me spending an hour a week is such an easy thing to do and it can make such a difference to help people strengthen their communication skills because a lot of them are working multiple jobs.”

Her inspiration for bridging cultures and bringing people together was something you could say she was born with, her father a Reform Rabbi in South Africa, “At a time when Nelson Mandela was in jail, you couldn’t even mention his name without getting arrested, my dad invited black ministers to speak at our temple. And that doesn’t sound like a big deal in the context of this culture and this time but then it was an extremely dangerous thing to do.”

The family came to the U.S. when she was 14, and those early lessons from her father are passed on now to her three children.

“Have gratitude and see what you can do to help somebody else,” she explains, “because you always have a reason to be thankful for something.”

As she looks with gratitude towards the future, Lisa finds inspiration in a quote from a book on asylum  for immigration defense lawyers, sharing with NEWS10, “Do not bow, do not break, do not quit, never be silenced, never give up, never give in, and stand for justice.”