enia Perez, JD ’18, set out to earn a law degree so she could fight on behalf of undocumented immigrants and one day change U.S. immigration policy at a systemic level. When existing Connecticut Bar Association policy threatened to derail her career before it began, Perez, with the support of Quinnipiac School of Law, chose to fight for herself.
Perez, a DACA recipient, spearheaded a successful initiative to amend the CBA’s bar admission language to include individuals covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects eligible immigrant youth from deportation. Under the amended guidelines, DACA beneficiaries meet criteria as lawful residents insofar as they are “legally authorized to work in the United States,” enabling them to sit for the bar exam and legally practice law.
“This provides hope for DACA students like me who previously may have felt skeptical about pursuing the legal profession in Connecticut,” Perez said. “It reminds them, too, that Connecticut is a welcoming place for immigrants.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported 690,000 DACA recipients living in the country as of September 2017.
The plight of the immigrant is one with which Perez is familiar. Her parents emigrated from Mexico when she was 11 months old, eventually settling in Santa Rosa, California. While the term “undocumented” did not enter her vocabulary until years later, Perez was made aware early that she was not born in the U.S. and that her family didn’t have “papers.”
“My parents have always been very honest with me about everything,” she said.
Perez remembers a particularly frightening period when she was 8 years old and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, was conducting employment raids in her area. Her mother and father did not hide the gravity of the situation.
“I remember that conversation well,” Perez said. “They told me what could happen, but that they had to go to work to put food on the table. They had to pay the bills.”
The possibility that her mother and father could be arrested and deported loomed over Perez each day, and she grew increasingly fearful of coming home from school to an empty house. The deportation scare would crop up again in 2010, when Perez was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College. Facing removal proceedings, her parents were unsure if they could afford to appeal.