Our History

Coming together

Dan and Katia at a DACA workshop in San Diego, 2012

Daniel Stracka met his wife Barbara when they were foreign students in England and their life together included a deep commitment to service in their community and the larger world.

Dan’s work with international students illuminated the complex problems faced by immigrants. As a result, Dan and Barb sponsored refugee families and engaged their Unitarian Universalist congregation in immigrant justice work. This prompted Dan to become an immigration attorney, which led to work in a Cambodian refugee camp, on committees for the United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, teaching immigration law, and assisting many clients with their immigration needs. He and Barb had a retirement plan–to create a nonprofit organization founded on Unitarian Universalist values that provided legal services and outreach to the most marginalized in our country. Unfortunately, Barb’s untimely death in 2006 changed that plan. 

Katia Hansen worked for many years in domestic violence programs which provided her first opportuniy to assist immigrant victims of domestic violence and  human trafficking.

Working with these victims was the catalyst for Katia to attend graduate school with the goal of combining law and social work for a career as an Executive Director of a nonprofit. This choice provided Katia opportunities to expand her work with victims of domestic violence and human trafficking to Lithuania and Thailand. 

While in law school, Katia–also a Unitarian Universalist–serendipitously connected with Dan Stracka to discuss her goals for administrative relief for immigrant victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. As a result of this meeting, Katia agreed to work on a human trafficking case with Dan. They worked well together, and found not only a common goal, but a shared sense of purpose, values, and sense of humor. 

A growing collaboration

Dan shared with Katia his idea to develop an immigration agency based on Unitarian Universalist principles.

The idea resonated strongly for Katia, and she began using the concept as a prototype agency for graduate school projects. 

Using the academic business plan and service model that Katia had created, she and Dan refined them for implementation and they began the process to make UURISE a non-profit business in California. On May 8, 2007, UURISE was officially established, and a few months later it received IRS recognition as a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization. Katia and Dan were founding board members, and Dan was the founding CEO.

UURISE at Days of Noncompliance in Phoenix, 2012

UURISE was an all-volunteer organization from 2007-2010. Dan saw clients in shared offices and coffee shops, and Katia and the rest of the board pulled together educational forums, resource guides, and immigration legal clinics all while searching for grant opportunities. In 2010, Katia was hired as the Program Manager–the first official staff member–and UURISE rented their first office space. It was a leap of faith because there was very little funding. After some successful fundraising, Dan left his position at another non-profit and put his energy full time into UURISE. 

Since our inception, UURISE has chosen to be actively involved in partnerships and collaborations that allow us to leverage our skills and resources to best serve the most clients.

Examples of this include being a founding member of both the San Diego Citizenship Collaborative (formerly San Diego Naturalization Collaborative) and the Dreamer Assistance Network, and working with local and national partners in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2012 Unitarian Universalist Justice General Assembly on a Naturalization workshop. 

Looking forward

UURISE team at the Main Office in Vista, 2021

Over the years, our services, locations, and team have expanded.

We developed Emergency Safety Planning for Immigrants (ESPI) services in 2012 and expanded that to CARE (Connections/Advocacy/Resource Navigation/ESPI) services in 2021.

In 2015, UURISE began offering services at First Unitarian Universalist’s South Bay campus in Chula Vista. In 2018, UURISE became a Department of Justice Recognized organization, and added our first DOJ Accredited Representative. In 2022, UURISE added the North County Family Justice Center–One Safe Place to our list of service locations.

UURISE has grown from two people with a shared vision to a vibrant, dynamic, multidisciplinary team. 

Dan Stracka’s death in 2020 was a deeply-felt loss for UURISE. The UURISE team honors Dan’s legacy and Barb’s dream through their commitment to quality services, partnerships, and UU values. 

UURISE marks their 15th year in 2022, and the team is exceedingly grateful that the organization has grown strong in the midst of politically and socially turbulent times.