I’m a born-and-raised Midwesterner who grew up in Wisconsin (but don’t worry, I’m a Vikings fan now!). After graduating from college, I moved to New Orleans to sing jazz in the French Quarter. I got a job as an immigration paralegal – and found my passion in life. When I saw how immigrants’ rights were threatened after the September 11 attacks, I knew I had to go to law school so that I could help people stand up against prejudice and injustice. I began law school in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina sent me evacuating north to be with my family in Minnesota in 2005. When I met my husband, Ben, standing in line in the cafeteria of my temporary law school, I knew that I was here in Minnesota to stay. Fifteen years later, I am proud to call Minnesota my home.
My husband Ben and I share a deep commitment to fighting for civil rights. Ben is a lawyer and has worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota for the past six years. We now have two children—Brennan, named for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., and Harper, named for To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Five years ago, when we were looking to buy a new home, Ben and I wanted to make certain that our children grew up in a community with excellent public schools, welcoming neighbors, and diverse residents who look like Minnesota. We found all of those things in New Brighton, and we love the feeling of community we have found here.
In 2010, I founded my law firm, Grell Feist PLC, with a lot of inspiration and no savings. Almost 10 years later, my firm now employs six people. Through my immigration work, I have helped hundreds of people achieve their dreams of living in the United States.
I am deeply committed to public service and volunteer for many organizations that provide free services to immigrants, as well as on-the-ground advocacy work. I’ve held leadership roles within the American Immigration Lawyers Association, regionally and nationally, and have been active on boards and committees with a variety of local organizations including the YWCA, Minnesota Women Lawyers, and the ACLU of Minnesota. Through these roles, I’ve had the honor to make a direct impact on the lives of low-income immigrants and also shaped the national dialogue over immigration policy through direct advocacy and collaboration with Minnesota’s Congressional delegation.
Like all moms, I seem to spend most of my time driving my children to their activities. Over the past several years, I have battled back a feeling of powerlessness with the knowledge that perhaps my most important contribution to democracy is to raise empathetic, civic-minded children who will give back to their community.
My commitment to fighting injustice and helping others achieve a better future has been constant throughout my career. As the representative for our district, I continue that fight, so that we can build a Minnesota where everyone has opportunities and all are welcome.
As a new legislator in the 2021 legislative session, I worked alongside community advocates and experts to author equity-centered legislation:
The Veterans Restorative Justice Act: This bold, first-of-its-kind bill in the nation creates a restorative sentencing pathway for veterans with certain offenses that stem from a service-related injury or trauma. I worked alongside veterans advocates, defense attorneys, and domestic violence experts to negotiate the strongest-possible version of this bill. This bill is a bold step in the direction of a more just, functional, and effective system of criminal justice.
U Visa Certification Bill: This bill supports immigrant victims of serious crimes by creating standardized timelines for response by law enforcement to requests for a certification document required to apply for a “U Visa,” which provides a pathway to legalization. As the lead author of this bill, I brought together a coalition of immigrants’ rights experts, domestic violence advocates, and law enforcement to support its passage. This bill improves the process dramatically, providing more clarity and peace of mind for immigrants in the U Visa process.
Suicide Prevention Training Bill: This bill, in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provided funding to expand access to this critical virtual training for teachers across Minnesota. As students struggle with the impact of the pandemic on their mental wellbeing, this funding could not be more timely and important.
In addition to these key achievements, I also authored successful legislation to bring state and federal immigration law into alignment in our state pensions statutes and to expand funding for closed captioning of legislative hearings.
Sandra in the News