As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student Yesica Gaudalupe Lara, 22, wants to protect people like herself living at the mercy of fickle immigration policies.
“Many of us live day-to-day to see what the next immigration policy change will be. It’s very scary because you never know who will be next or what will happen next,” said Lara, who’s had people close to her deported. “it sucks.”
The College of Saint Mary senior is on track to graduate in December with a paralegal degree. She plans taking the LSAT or Law School Admission Test and eventually studying immigration law. It’s a field where she can bring her own personal experience with the system and her Spanish language fluency to bear.
This spring she worked at Creighton University’s Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic with senior CU law students. She’s the first CSM student to complete a clinic “externship” in a partnership between the two Catholic institutions that allows CSM paralegal majors to gain practical experience. In a cooperative program students can earn their para and JD degrees in only six years.
The free clinic assists low-income residents with civil matters. Lara identified with the struggles of immigrant clients. She drew on her own experience coming to America from Mexico with her mother at age 10.
“One of the major reasons why I want to be an immigration attorney is that I can understand what people are going through because I went through it, too,” she said. “Not a lot of professionals have that empathy or understanding.”
Lsra, the youngest of six siblings, said she and her mother Maria “went through a lot together – it was just her and I.”
“My mother was seeking a better future for me.”
Lara’s father died in Mexico when she was about 12.
Her mother worked seasonally as a hotel housekeeper. “Sometimes,” Lara said, “all I would eat throughout the day was the meal I had at school. There were times we only had one egg and we both had to share it. My mom made and sold food to provide for the house.”
Enduring those lean times taught resilience.
“I learned you’re not going to have anything easy in life and if you want something you have to work hard for it. I learned, no matter what, my mom’s the one person that’s always going to be there for me – the same way I am there for her. If she’s weak, I have to be strong in order for her to be strong again.
“She is my number one supporter.”
After Florida, this mother-daughter survivor team moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where one of Lara’s brothers lives. As a high school student Lara attended CSM’s Summer Latina Academy in Omaha.
The academy is where she learned about the private Misericordia Scholarship that supports undocumented students ineligible for government aid. She applied for and got the scholarship.
“I look at it as a great opportunity. It’s made a huge impact not only for me but for my mom.”
Though there’s been “sacrifices” along the way, Lara said, “it’s going to be worth it at the end of the day.”
CSM assistant professor Brenda Romero.has been another support
“She’s seen me in my really good and my really bad,” Lara said of Romero. “She has seen me grow throughout my CSM experience. She always gives me a pep talk whenever I need it.”
Another Lara role model is her sister Jennifer Lara,
who practices family law in Mexico.
“I want to be like my sister one day,” Lara said. “She advises me. Sometimes I call her when I don’t understand a homework assIgnment or i don’t know how to summarize a case for one of my classes. She’s a really good resource in my life.”
Working in the CU clinic impressed upon Lara “how many people need legal assistance and can’t afford it.”
She feels the clinic prepared her for law school and instilled new confidence in expressing herself.
“Before, I would be a little shy speaking English because of my strong accent, but it’s helped me to understand it’s okay to be different.”
She also gained an appreciation for the importance of being bilingual.
“There were a lot of times I had to be one-on-one with the client and the attorneys serving as an interpreter.”
Lara’s also become more vocal about the need for immigration reform to remove the uncertainty and jeopardy the undocumented live with. She also feels immigration opponents need to be better informed.
“I think if people were more well-educated about the process and saw what we have to go through to immigrate to this country, they would have a different persecutive.”
Last year she joined a group of fellow DREAMERS on a trip to Washington D.C. to advocate for DACA before Nebraska’s congressional delegation.
“Leaders got to hear how we feel and what we go through. We learned their perspective. It was an educational experience for them and us.”
She’s come a long way from wide-eyed newcomer to aspiring attorney. She credits her support network for getting her this far.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to be just one semester away from graduating. I am fortunate to have people who motivate me to do better, to keep going and not give up even when I feel like I want to give up.”
Everything to this point has been for her mother, said Lara, whose Facebook profile proudly proclaims, “Family over everything.”
“My mom works 12-plus hours a day. I am not sure how she does it, but she does all that to help me out. Once I graduate I want her to stop working because then it will be my time to take care of her.”
Lara’s ultimate goal is to open a nonprofit law service that provides free legal advice as well as citizenship preparation and ESL classes,
“I want to give back what God has given me and share my blessings with other people.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.
Yesica Lara is the young Latina in these two images. She’s fourth from the left in the first picture and on the left in the second picture. In each, she’s pictured with staff atCreighton University’s Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic, where she recently completed the first externship in a partnership between College of Saint Mary and Creighton.