Profiles in Practice: Gloria Contreras Edin

woman in business suit
By Bethany Maski 

Born and raised in East Los Angeles, California, Gloria Contreras Edin’s nontraditional pathway into the legal profession makes her perspective all the more insightful and her voice all the more necessary. Her inspiring journey, from a child raised in an underserved community to the founder and sole proprietor of Contreras & Metelska, was forged by perseverance and paved by a sincere desire to provide accessible legal services to those who needed it most.

Gloria-Edin-1After relocating from Southern California’s urban hub to the outskirts of rural north-central Minnesota with two young children in tow, Contreras Edin believed she was destined to be a stay-at-home mother. Once in Minnesota, however, she was recruited to serve as a Spanish interpreter and her skills were retained, in part, to translate for Long Prairie’s burgeoning immigrant population. “There was a growing packing industry and a farming industry that was hiring immigrants,” she explained. “The town had limitations and was new to having immigrants. I realized there was an entire community of folks who really needed legal advocacy, and because of the isolated rural area, access to good legal support was limited.”

As a result of the town’s finite resources, Contreras Edin helped create the Todd County Hispanic Liaison’s Office, an office in which she also served as the director. It was this experience that inspired her to become a lawyer. Asked why she was drawn to the practice of law, she said, “Because someone told me I couldn’t tell people what their rights were, and that made me want to tell people what their rights were.”

Gloria-Edin-2Now, as an attorney, Contreras Edin’s skilled and compassionate legal representation and advocacy are the cornerstones upon which her client-focused firm is built. She describes her firm, which specializes in Immigration Law, as “a collective of people who love what they do, are passionate about what they do, and care about their clients. Our staff has heart,” she said.

A recent example of that “heart" came in January 2021, when the firm helped a local grandmother win the first pardon absolute Minnesota had granted in 35 years. Although she is quick to praise Nico Ratkowski, the lead attorney on the case, Contreras Edin is reluctant to take credit for her part in assembling a team of tenacious legal advocates. “Good people come together, and good people work together,” she insisted. “The great work that we do is a collective, so in many ways I don’t feel like I can take credit for it.”

Practitioners specializing in immigration law require a high degree of legal acumen and mental dexterity to meet the demands of rotating political administrations and fluctuating legal standards. Contreras Edin is proud of the work produced in her field despite these inherent challenges. “Immigration law is very complicated, but immigration lawyers are probably some of the most agile, most resilient, and grittiest lawyers out there. We’re a tough bunch,” she quipped with a knowing laugh.

With her vast experience in immigration law, Contreras Edin wants others to know that immigrants, regardless of where they are in their journey to citizenship, have a strong desire to work. In an economy ravaged by the devastating effects of a global pandemic, and during a time when employers struggle to staff their businesses, Contreras Edin knows of approximately 11 million people who are ready to join the workforce today. On average, her firm receives between 200-300 pieces of mail each week and much of the voluminous mailings consist of employment authorization documents, residency cards, and approval notices for naturalization. “As we continue to face a really difficult economy, challenges in staffing, and inflation rates, immigration lawyers are producing workers,” she said earnestly.

Gloria-Edin-3Once a person obtains employment status, it immediately changes the trajectory of their entire family, their economic future, and that of the communities in which they live. And while there may be just one client in her office at any given moment, that single client’s success creates a domino effect that fosters generational opportunities and fuels economic growth. It is for these reasons, she said, “immigration lawyers are one of the largest cogs in the engine of our economy.”

As a leader in her industry, Contreras Edin is the recipient of several awards celebrating her contributions to the profession and the community. Yet she offered a refreshingly honest insight into the days, months, and sometimes years of laborious work that lie hidden under the luster of public recognition. Although grateful every time her firm’s hard work is recognized, she acknowledged that there are also periods of uncertainty and moments of failure. “The reality is that I was often scared to death,” she said of building her legal career, “and we need to be more real with lawyers so that we encourage other young women to get up and go.”

In that same vein, Contreras Edin values being true to her authentic self and sharing the parts of her story she previously kept private. She asked, “How in the world did this girl from East L.A., who didn’t know her father, who left home at 15, who was pregnant and broke and a high school drop-out—how in the world did she come here and become a successful lawyer with her own practice?”

With her firm booked-out months in advance, the ability to forge ahead is something she has seemingly mastered. When asked what her future endeavors hold, she stressed the continued and pressing need to advocate for LGBTQIA and non-binary asylum-seekers, noting that 1.3 million adult U.S. immigrants identifies as LGBTQIA. As a member of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, Contreras Edin has additional lines of sight into this complex issue and said that this population experiences some of the most atrocious forms of torture and harm in their home countries. It is for these reasons that she envisions a return to California in her golden years to focus on trans-asylum work in San Francisco’s Castro District. “That is how I want to spend the last breathing hours of my life. I want to be there,” she stated emphatically. “Or, with my granddaughter,” she added quickly and with a joyful smile.

Bethany Maski 150-1Bethany Maski is a law clerk in the Hennepin County Family Court Division.  She is a 2021 cum laude graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband.

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