Meet Linda Barreto, a San Joaquin College of Law alumnae (Law ‘14), UC Merced graduate and our New American Legal Clinic亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看 Director. After taking her first case to court as a college sophomore, she decided to pursue her law degree and discovered her passion for helping people become U.S. citizens while she was in law school.
Tell us about yourself and your path to law school.
I was born and raised in Fresno, graduated from Central High School and attended UC Merced for college where I was part of the inaugurating class. For college, I wanted to stay close to home because my family has strong business ties in the Valley (both of my parents are business owners), all of my siblings live here except for one and we’re a really close family. We’re an independent family, but not distant so it just felt right to be close to them. We have weekly family dinners and have a lot of family events, so I didn’t see myself moving too far from the area.
As far as law school goes, I always knew I wanted to be an attorney and my college experience really solidified that for me. I was pulled over for making a wrong left-hand turn (according to the officer) and I knew that was impossible because I definitely needed the stop sign. I let the officer know that if I didn’t stop, the oncoming traffic would’ve hit me and she said, “I’ll see you in court.” I showed up in traffic court as a college sophomore, I fought my case with pictures and a map and I won. I prepared my case and the judge heard both of our arguments and sided with me so after that, I was pretty set on going to law school. I got engaged while I was in college and my husband has a local business as well, so we decided it would be best for me to stay local for law school.
What are you doing with such a big workload?
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看I’ve only been here for four months, but the team tells me this is the busiest it’s ever been. We’re grant-funded, so that covers a certain amount of cases per year. When I started last November, the fall semester was well underway and there were no students involved in the clinic except for one volunteer. This semester, I have nine students and most of them are getting clinical units and some of them are part of my lecture course as well.
Why do you think this is such a great experience for law school students?
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看They gain so much practical knowledge. I went to law school and I was lucky enough to pass the Bar the first time but once I was done, it was like “Okay, now how do you be a lawyer? How do you work on a case? How do you get clients? How do you interview them?” Through the NALC clinic, the students are able to see the entire process. They do everything from outreach events (to demonstrate how to get clients) to intakes (to analyze cases) and if the clinic decides to take on the case, then they actually do the work - research memos, prepare the filings, etc. There are also opportunities to go to immigration court to observe hearings. Each student has their own caseload and for most students, that’s about five cases and I try to give them a variety, so they can see the different types of cases (U-Visa, naturalization cases, adjustment cases, court cases, etc). My goal is to create a sustainable pipeline of students that get not only a meaningful experience, but also have enough exposure that if they come across an immigration issue while they’re practicing, they can analyze it and know who to refer their client to or recognize the type of case they’re dealing with. There’s such a deficit of immigration lawyers in the Central Valley right now.
In law school I worked at NALC and realized that I really connected with this population, I liked what I was doing, and I was good at it. After I worked in the clinic, I got a job as a legal clerk at an immigration law firm and it just went from there. Working in the NALC program gave me an opportunity to try this area of law without a big commitment like starting a job and realizing you hate it.
How was your experience as a student at SJCL?
Having a local law school helped me because I had a hard choice of staying here or going away to law school and having a long distance relationship since my husband moving wasn’t an option with his business. It was really a no-brainer for me and I tell my students this now as well - you’ll get out of law school what you put into it. If you’re studious, the professors are available, and the class sizes are much smaller than they would be at a larger college. You’ll have all the opportunity to succeed, but you have to initiate that. I’ve told my own students if they have questions or need anything at all, call me or email me. Like all of our professors, I make myself so accessible and while I don’t have any experience at a larger school, I just can’t imagine that the experience would be up to par because they have so many students. We also have a really diverse faculty亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看 - a lot of sitting judges are professors, so you’re learning from the people who are going to literally be judging you during your career.
It might sound crazy, but while I was in law school I had two kids and I told my husband that I couldn’t fail the Bar because I couldn’t do that Bar prep experience again. It was such a big commitment, time-intensive and mentally draining. I just knew that if I gave it 100 percent, SJCL would give that to me two-fold but I just had to take the opportunities and work hard. I knew I wanted to stay local and I knew that a lot of these attorneys that were teaching me would potentially be my employers one day, so I made those connections while I was in school and it paid off.
Did you always know you wanted to go into immigration law?
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看It wasn’t until I start working with the NALC program while I was in law school that I realized how serious of an issue it is for the community. I guess I was blindsided by it because I was born here in the U.S. and even though my mom was a Mexican immigrant, by the time we were born she had already obtained her residency. It wasn’t until I started working with NALC and dealing one-on-one directly with the immigrant population that I realized how difficult the immigration process is. I realized that when it comes to immigration law, you’re fighting for someone, so they can stay with their family and stay in the country that they consider home. I felt that I could make a big difference and truly provide long-term help that could change their life and the lives of their children and maybe even their grandchildren. After working in NALC, I quickly learned that there was a real deficit for people with my particular skill set since I’m bilingual and I’m able to connect with the community. Many immigrants don’t know who they can trust and there’s a lot of confusion, panic and fear especially under the current administration; it’s a blessing for me to be able to work with my community and be able to help them, even if it’s in the smallest way.
Why is the NALC program so important in today’s political climate?
There’s a lot of fear and misconception. My clients ask me all the time about new laws coming out, but they really aren’t new laws because they’ve been on the books for years. This administration is just taking a different approach to those laws that already existed. Granted there are new things that weren’t previously in effect like the Travel Ban, but the media, social media and word of mouth sometimes isn’t helpful in these cases because they put out information that isn’t necessarily the truth, which causes that panic and fear in the community.
Dean Pearson’s亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看 focus has always been firstly to give the students a meaningful experience but second of all, most of the people that we help are becoming U.S. citizens, which means that they are here legally and we’re just helping them complete their process from residency to citizenship. That’s important because they’ve been here for years and consider the U.S. their home, but now they can really say they’re a citizen of this country. The NALC program processes about 400 citizenship cases a year and the majority of the cases we do are 125 percent under the federal poverty guidelines. That means if it wasn’t for programs like ours, they wouldn’t be able to get help elsewhere because they couldn’t afford it. Having this program in the community is so vital and to keep the positive impact of immigration in the community, it’s necessary to keep it sustainable so that we can continue to be the mecca of different cultures.
Additionally, many of our clients have been victims of domestic violence, violent crimes or abuse of some sort. While NALC will help them with their immigration case, we also often connect them with our resources like therapy, food banks or whatever else they may need to have a better quality of life.
Have you had a case or client that’s had a big impact on you so far?
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看There’s been so many of them and I’ve had people that cry when they hear that their citizenship application is going to be approved. I had one client in particular that had gone to three other organizations for his citizenship case and was denied due to missing documents. In December, I went to his citizenship interview with him and he was approved. There’s another case that hasn’t been completed, but it involves a mother from Mexico that’s seeking asylum and has three children who are all deaf and mute. Just being there to help her and provide support for her family has been so impactful and I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to be able to help her.
How does it make you feel knowing your work is impacting the community like this?
We’re all on this Earth to do a job and I feel like that’s my job. Yes, it’s what I get paid to do, but I also feel like it’s a purpose for me - it’s why I have this skill set, it’s why I somehow fell into the NALC program, it’s why my first legal job ended up being an immigration job. It feels like I was put on this Earth to do this and it sounds cheesy, but I do feel like we’re all here for a purpose and this is how I’m fulfilling mine.
Do you have any advice for people who want to go to law school one day?
SJCL’s community and culture feels more inviting and less competitive than other schools. I’ve heard stories from other law schools where students stole other students’ laptops because they wanted to be at the top of the class. That’s just not how it is at SJCL. It’s not competitive with the mentality of “I’m trying to be better than you” but it is competitive in that SJCL wants you to graduate and become successful, so they’re going to push you to be the best you can be.
As far as opportunities go, a lot of people are afraid of student loans and I get that because I was too and I have student loans I’m paying now. But being that I’m currently working for a non-profit school, I have the opportunity to get my loans forgiven after working in the public sector for 10 years. That’s huge because I’m still making payments on my loans but within 10 years, the balance could be forgiven with no penalty. There’s a lot of jobs that count for this too - public defenders, district attorneys, if you work for a school, another type of non-profit, etc. Honestly, the best investment you can make is in yourself.
What are some benefits to students working with the NALC program?
My course is three units - one is a traditional lecture unit and two are clinical units. If you take the course, I lecture on Mondays for three hours where we talk about the substantive part of the law - this is the process in the law that allows people to apply for different benefits. For the clinical units, those students may have already taken the traditional unit under the previous professor and aren’t eligible. They may be graduating and need one or two units, so Dean Atkinson亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看 has sent them my way and we’ll sit down to look at their schedule and see when they can work to give them assignments and guide them through the cases. It’s flexible, they can either do directed research, clinical units or the lecture/clinical unit combo if they haven’t already participated in NALC before. You can also be a student advocate volunteer and I currently have one student who’s volunteering because she’s a 1L and isn’t eligible for an elective course yet. She’s passionate about immigration law and comes in once a week for three hours and I have short term assignments for her that she works on. Being a volunteer like her is great for resume building because a lot of employers look for the experience you have that you didn’t get paid for that helped build your skill set outside of school.
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看We also have a volunteer who’s doing the paralegal program through Fresno City College, so in order to complete her certificate she has to work in a legal office for 200 hours. She isn’t enrolled in SJCL, but she wants to attend in the future, so she’s working at NALC to complete those hours. There’re definitely opportunities to work in this field even if you don’t go to SJCL to see if you might want to go to law school and work in this industry one day.
When you’re not helping people, what are some of your hobbies?
亚洲免费无码中文在线&free欧美高清猪马牛&青青草手机在线免费看I spend a lot of time with my kids and with our extended family. I enjoy watching my kids play sports. My son plays soccer and my husband also plays on Sundays for a men’s league so we’re at the soccer field a lot. Some of my favorite things would be a vanilla latte and a great book.Want to learn more about our New American Legal Clinic or discuss your citizenship options with our staff? Click Here