Major: Political Science
Year of Graduation: 2009
Graduate School/Location: William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, MN
Current Position/Location: Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Please give a brief description of your current position.
I represent clients in Immigration Court and before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who are seeking relief or adjustment of status. I have the privilege of working with clients from all over the world in a variety of cases including: asylum, cancellation of removal, family-based immigration, bond, and other humanitarian applications. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal representation to eligible clients. Our organization also conducts community educational presentations and is involved with advocating for more just immigration laws.
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
While at St. Ben's, I worked as a Teach for America recruiter. In the process of educating my classmates about the program, I ended up recruiting myself. I was fortunate to have the chance to teach eighth grade history in the Rio Grande Valley for two years. The best part was meeting some truly wonderful students, caring fellow teachers, and welcoming community members. While I miss the classroom, I apply the skills that I learned as an educator in my daily work as a lawyer. I am happy to be a part of a passionate, dedicated, and supportive team of attorneys and staff at ILCM.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
First, I would strongly recommend working in a professional job before graduate school. Teaching helped ground me in my important values and gave me more perspective during law school. Also, the best way to know if you are interested in a certain field is to work as an intern. My summer internship at a private immigration firm while I was a junior at St. Ben's opened my eyes to my future career path. I would highly recommend students dive in and intern (for at least a summer) in an area of interest before pursuing graduate school or law school.
What skills are important in your field?
Empathy is one of the most important skills that good immigration attorneys develop. When an attorney builds a trusting relationship with her client, she can better understand her client's situation and advance a stronger theory of the case for trial. You also need strong written and oral communication skills. I also get to use my Spanish language skills daily in my client communications.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The most rewarding part of my job is getting to know my clients. They have taught me to be more courageous and resilient. I feel most inspired when I can amplify their voices to defend their dignity and to promote their legal rights.
One of the most challenging parts of the job is operating within a system of oppression. Major reforms are needed to improve our country's immigration laws to protect fundamental human rights of immigrants and refugees. For example, immigration proceedings are categorized as civil cases and not criminal cases. For this reason, clients facing deportation in removal proceedings do not have the right to a public defender. Because immigration law is as complex as the federal tax code, representing oneself in immigration proceedings is challenging. This is especially true for clients who speak English as their second or even third language. An individual who has an immigration attorney is 10.5 times more likely to get to stay in the United States. We need more immigration attorneys to provide free legal representation to the many individuals who cannot afford an attorney. This is a racial justice issue that requires reform to protect equal justice under law.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Mock Trial (and later in law school, Advanced Advocacy) prepared me to learn to digest information quickly and synthesize persuasive arguments for trial. Plus, we had a ton of fun! I would also say that the Washington D.C. summer program (and interning at the Senate) were wonderful experiences to teaching me how the legislative process works.