Inspired by Parents’ Struggle, Alum Returns to Help Immigrants
In a way, becoming the supervising attorney of the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic (LIJC), the only community-based, law school-housed immigration clinic in the country, is what JD evening alumna Yanira Lemus ’14 was meant to do.
“Immigration has always been an issue in my life,” the Los Angeles native explains. As the child of Salvadoran immigrants, she remembers going to El Salvador with her family as part of her parents’ citizenship process. “The civil war was still going on. I think it’s astonishing that they were forced to go to a country at war to get legal status in the U.S.”
Working for an educational nonprofit cemented Lemus’ passion for immigration law. She grew angry seeing how difficult it was for immigrant students and their parents to obtain financial aid or even go on college visits.
Lemus selected Loyola for its focus on social justice, as well as its top-ranked evening division. “I knew Loyola was a school that created attorneys who work in nonprofits and do pro bono,” she says.
To her surprise, one of Lemus’ favorite classes was Business Immigration Law taught by Disney in-house counsel Giovanny Lopez ’04. Lemus had no intention of working for business clients, but she appreciated Lopez’s practical approach to teaching.
“Even though it was business, I learned a lot of practical things for the work I do now,” she says. “I just loved how passionate he was about his course.”
The program that turned out to matter the most to her was the new immigration clinic, founded by then-students Marissa Montes ‘12 and Emily Robinson ‘12. “The clinic was not work, it was fun,” she says. “I loved it and was passionate about it.”
After working for a couple of public interest law firms, Lemus returned to the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic. As part of the clinic, Lemus, staff attorneys Alejandro Barajas ‘15 and Sandra Ruiz ’15, and Loyola alumni volunteers, directly represent clients and supervise law students participating in the clinic.
In addition to their individual caseloads, Lemus and her attorneys hold weekly outreach sessions at East L.A.’s Homeboy Industries, Dolores Mission Church and local schools.
When President Trump announced in September that he was cancelling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA), Lemus and the rest of the clinic sprang into action. Within two weeks, they put on a daylong event where about 60 volunteers helped more than 100 immigrants with their DACA renewals.
“We couldn’t have done it without the extended Loyola community,” Lemus says. “Everyone came together.”
That commitment from the Law School community parallels her experience of Loyola overall.
“Loyola’s support system exceeded my expectations. If I sought out any help, I was not only provided with help, I felt like I was a priority with them,” she says. “Loyola feels like home.”