15 Years After Coming to the U.S. Undocumented, I Became a Lawyer. This Week I Was in the Supreme Court

Nora-KAPA215215 Years After Coming to the U.S. Undocumented, I Became a Lawyer. This Week I Was in the Supreme Court

APRIL 22, 2016

This week, I was fortunate enough to be inside the U.S. Supreme Court for the argument in the U.S. v Texas case challenging the president’s immigration relief initiatives, known as DAPA and the expansion of DACA. While I entered the courthouse as a member of the Supreme Court Bar, having practiced law for 10 years, this scene would’ve seemed but a dream not too long ago.

My parents brought me to Garden Grove, Calif., from Mexico undocumented when I was 13 years old. As a teenager, it was a tough transition being in an unfamiliar place and not knowing a word of English. But with my family’s support — and not without some setbacks — I was able to excel in school and embark in a rewarding career that led me to this surreal point: sitting right in front row, across from Justice Sonia Sotomayor and behind Attorney General Loretta Lynch, two women I deeply admire.

DAPA and the expansion of DACA would provide deportation relief and work authorization to certain young, undocumented people, as well as to certain parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Being inside the courtroom and watching attorneys expertly make the legal case for the administration’s initiatives, reminded me of the limitations my own immigration status imposed on me when I was growing up. Though I excelled in school and got an associate’s degree from a local community college, I could not transfer to one of the several California universities that accepted me because nonresident tuition was prohibitively expensive for my minimum wage–earning parents, who had three college-age children at the time.

I continued taking classes, obtained a second degree, and volunteered extensively at the community college for four more years, waiting for my immigration status to change. Finally, in 2000, I became a lawful permanent resident and was able to transfer to U.C. Davis to finish my degree, which in turn opened the door for me to attend U.C. Berkeley Law School.

I’ve always wanted to help people, such as my family, who could have avoided so many difficulties and heartache if we only had access to more information and resources — if we only understood the legal system better. Knowing that law is a powerful tool, I became a lawyer 15 years after arriving in the United States.

Monday was a full-circle-moment for me. I watched attorneys argue the law and knew that some of them had in mind the practical, real-life consequences of what was happening in that courtroom. I felt proud to be sitting there with some of the families whose lives will be impacted by this case.

If DAPA and the expansion of DACA are allowed to go into effect, families around the country will no longer have to live in fear of being separated. Not only that, but entire communities will benefit from increased tax revenue and newly authorized workers will no longer be subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Our whole country will reap the moral and financial benefits.

The most unforgettable part of Monday was coming out the front door of that magnificent Supreme Court building, walking down those marble steps alongside many of the amazing people who will benefit from DAPA and expanded DACA, and hearing the thousands of immigrant families outside chanting and clapping. I had to fight back tears as I descended those steps, looked out over that beautiful crowd, and felt its overwhelmingly positive energy.

I do not for a minute forget the sacrifices my family made to come to this country or the many years I spent undocumented and living in fear of being deported. I know how privileged I was to be there Monday and to walk among all those families fighting for the same thing my family wanted: a better life and an opportunity to thrive and give back.