Playing an Active Role
It’s only her second year of law school, but A. Gabriela Moraga ’19 has already changed the life of one of her clients. Through the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, she helped a young man — who came to this country from Trinidad and Tobago as a young child — be released from a detention center, reunite with his family, and stay in America legally.
Moraga, who studied Spanish and international studies at UC Santa Barbara, is the community chair for the Immigration Law Society and a junior staffer for USF Law Review. Last summer she worked for the immigration department of La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco’s Mission District, and she’s spending this summer at Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland, which provides legal services to protect and advance immigrant rights.
What inspired you to pursue a law career?
As a child of immigrant parents, I was a first-hand witness of the impact that a lawyer can have on someone’s livelihood. In a way, I am my parents’ “American Dream” and I couldn’t think of a better way to give back than to pursue a career in immigration law and help other undocumented immigrants, like my parents once were.
What has been the highlight of your participation in the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic?
The ability to play an active role in the process of serving the immigrant community. We learn so much and the practical experience is priceless. The clinic has been the highlight of my law school experience especially since I have had the honor to learn under the guidance of the amazing professors Jacqueline Brown Scott and Bill Ong Hing. I couldn’t have picked a better set of educators to help me become the best immigration attorney I can be.
Tell us about your experience representing a clinic client in Pennsylvania. What was your role in the case?
The case was part of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Pro Bono Project. Our client, who is a legal permanent resident, was subject to deportation due to a conviction for carrying an unlicensed firearm. He applied for and received the cancellation of his removal, after it was shown that his moral character was sufficient for him to stay in the country despite the grounds for removal. The immigration judge ruled in favor of the client, however the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appealed the order to the BIA.
My role was to write the appeal brief in opposition to DHS’s appeal. Whether someone merits cancellation of removal comes down to whether the respondent’s positive factors outweigh any negative factors and essentially showing that he does not pose an ongoing threat to society. I centered my arguments around that main idea because the context surrounding the client’s firearm conviction showed that he was no threat whatsoever.
What was most interesting about working on this case?
The fact that I was able to help make an impact on someone’s life. This was a client who had not been able to find representation and could have had his whole world turned upside down if DHS’s appeal was successful. With the guidance of Professor Hing, we were able to prevent his deportation and avoid the separation of yet another family. A second valuable aspect was the learning experience. Knowing I want to pursue immigration law as a career, I also know that I won’t improve unless I get practice and experience. This appeal allowed me to learn and become a better advocate as a result.