Caterin Miralda from Santa Clara University School of Law is the winner of the Fall 2020 Funk & Associates Law Student Scholarship.
Her essay explores why and how she plans to use her law degree to help immigrant youth.
My decision for pursuing a career in law was to help marginalized communities get through some of the toughest moments in their lives. Although my goal is to work as a public defender, I hope to also use my time and degree to help immigrant farm workers and the youth. I hope to do this by working on policy work that benefits immigrant farm workers rights and helps youth remain in school and stop the school-to-prison pipeline.
While in undergraduate school at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, I interned at the Santa Maria public defender’s office for a summer. This experience allowed me to ensure that law school was the right path for me. Additionally, it gave me an opportunity to work with a predominately immigrant community. Many of the case I was assigned to was dealing with criminal cases involving immigrants from Mexico, many of whom did not speak any English. Given that I am fluent in Spanish, I was able to advocate for them in ways that other interns who did not speak Spanish could not.
Now that I am in law school, I have opportunities to work more closely with clients of various populations. I have interned at Legal Services for Children as an immigrations intern. I worked with many kids seeking asylum and Special Juvenile Immigration Status. While the work was hard, it allowed me to experience another path that I could take to help my community. Many of the clients I was assigned to were immigrants from Central America, primarily Honduras.
Additionally, during my fall semester of my 2L year I interned at Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, working with children in the dependency/foster care system, as well as children in the juvenile justice system. This internship allowed me to continue to work with kids, but with a different needs. This experience opened my eyes to how important it is to reform our foster care system and how we go about splitting kids from their families. During my spring semester, I took a class which allowed me to write policy papers regarding issues affecting foster youth and find ways our government and communities can best address these issues.
I was also a part of my law school’s International Human Rights Clinic as a student associate for my entire 2L year. I worked on two projects regarding human rights violations from two Latin-American countries. One project was an amicus curiae brief that will be submitted before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, regarding the State of Honduras’ human rights violations against a transgender woman. The second project was a human rights report for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, regarding the State of Costa Rica’s human rights violations against the Banana and Pineapple farm workers. Both of these projects provided me with the experience of researching and writing legal briefs and reports in Spanish. Additionally, it gave me an insight into the Latin American communities and issues they face, as well as different approaches of trying to resolve such issues.
Since January, I have been interning at the Public Defenders in Santa Clara County, working with post-conviction cases and felony conviction. I’ve had the opportunity to help clients apply for certifications of rehabilitation and expungement, as well as writing motion to dismiss and Romero motion for our felony convictions cases. Interviewing the clients to write their statements has taught me that people are so much more than their RAP sheets. I’ve always known not to judge someone by their past, however, this internship has really pushed me to take that a few steps father. Speaking with these clients has fueled my desire to work with marginalized communities because often these people are painted as criminals before they even get a chance to prove otherwise.
While I plan to work as a public defender upon graduating, there are more ways in which I can help marginalized communities. My experience has allowed me to gain the skills needed to speak with the various communities I hope to work with and gain an understanding into the various issues the face. I know being a public defender will take up a lot of my time and it might be unlikely that I could do policy work as well. However, eventually, I hope to make policy work and policy reform a priority in my career.