Law student works with undocumented immigrants facing deportation

August 08, 2017

Law student Denia Perez writes in her notebook in the law library

Growing up the child of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Denia Perez, JD ’18 learned first-hand how frightening the prospect of deportation — and being separated from her family — really is.

“My parents were in deportation proceedings for a long time,” Perez explained. “As a child, I felt powerless watching them go to their hearings and get news of their case.”

Perez became determined to help families like hers navigate and understand what can be a very complicated immigration system. Her sense of purpose guided her to the Quinnipiac University School of Law, where she is focusing on immigration and public interest law. The inclusive atmosphere, accessible faculty and small class sizes have enabled Perez to pursue what has blossomed into a life-long passion.

“I’ve really been able to engage in long and nuanced conversations about relevant and controversial topics here,” she said.

Thanks to an internship with Dolores Street Community Services, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to wide range of social justice issues, Perez has been able to do much more than just talk. She works for the organization’s Deportation Defense and Legal Advocacy Program, which provides pro bono legal representation to those in San Francisco’s immigrant community facing deportation.

“I am getting trained in deportation defense by some of the most creative and intellectually-apt immigration attorneys in the country,” Perez said. “They are so passionate about what they do. It makes coming to work a joy.”

Each day, Perez works directly with immigrants who are in deportation proceedings and facing the prospect of removal. Her work is varied, ranging from writing bond appeal briefs for detained clients to putting together applications for U-Visas — legal remedies for immigrants who have been victims of violent crimes.

Perez also represents her program in many city and state-wide coalitions, including FreeSF, which works closely with officials to ensure that pro-immigration policies are passed and enforced.

“Doing this work has reminded me that a different and more inclusive world is possible,” she said. “We don't have to give in to our fears and xenophobia.”

Perez hopes to take the experience and enthusiasm she gained from her internship into her final year of law school at Quinnipiac. Following graduation, she plans on continuing to work with members of the immigrant community who are facing removal, and doing her part to ensure that this country really is a place where all people can have access to a just and fair proceeding.

“This experience has truly strengthened my commitment to fighting on behalf of immigrant families, and working for broad, comprehensive and humane immigration policies.”

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