Law Student Creates a Path for Others

One Dreamer’s USF Story

by Talya Sanders, USF News

The road to graduating law school for Katiuska Pimentel JD ’23 has been filled with financial hardships and family losses, and that has fueled her commitment to use her USF law degree to support others.

Pimentel came to the U.S. alone as a 15-year-old in 2010, leaving her parents in Peru. She enrolled in high school in Novato, where she lived with her sister, brother, and nieces, and worked as a dishwasher and server. Having overstayed her visa, she faced the challenge of paying for college as an undocumented immigrant, but she secured a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, majoring in politics and legal studies.

As an undergraduate, Pimentel worked for the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s office. One case involved an undocumented man who was arrested for driving too slowly in the rain on the winding Santa Cruz roads. Thanks to the public defender, the man’s case was dismissed.

“I felt so empowered to see the public defender advocate for someone else,” Pimentel said. “I want to be an advocate not just for my family, but for the community. With my unconventional background and humble beginnings, I bring a different perspective that the law really needs.”

Why USF Law?

Pimentel was drawn to USF School of Law because of its hands-on learning opportunities, including law clinics, and its support for first-generation lawyers.

And she was impressed by the Academic Support Program (ASP), which helps students develop skills to enhance their academic readiness and performance with a two-week summer program, exam rehearsals, and tutoring. ASP is also known for the supportive community it creates for students.

“In order to increase diversity in the legal profession, we have to increase support, which USF does well,” said Pimentel. “From the start, ASP felt like a community that I could rely on and that was going to help me.”

In July 2019, Pimentel was participating in the ASP orientation when tragedy struck. Her family was at the Gilroy Garlic Festival when a man opened fire on the crowd, killing her 13-year-old niece and two other people, as well as injuring 17 others. With the support of the ASP co-directors, she made the decision to defer law school for a year. They helped her postpone her scholarships and stayed in touch until she re-joined ASP the following summer.  

Power of Knowing

Since then, Pimentel raised money for a memorial to honor the Gilroy victims, while also becoming a top student.

“Kati has had a lot going against her, since as a Dreamer she can’t receive federal financial aid or loans, and she’s faced an incredible family crisis. We’re so proud of how she’s built something out of it and empowered her family,” said Assistant Professor Heidi Ho, co-director of ASP. “Kati is a force to be reckoned with. She’s got the right skills and the heart that you can’t teach. She embodies the essence of USF’s mission and the heart of ASP.”

Pimentel made the most of her time at USF. She externed with Judge Susan Illston on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and currently has an externship on the privacy legal team at DoorDash. A member of the McAuliffe Honor Society, she also participated in the Internet & Intellectual Property Justice Clinic, the moot court competition, and she is president of the Intellectual Property and Cyberlaw Association.

After graduation, Pimentel hopes for a career in intellectual property or privacy law.

And she wants to help the immigrant community and create a pipeline for other undocumented students.

“Law allows you to have the tools to fight injustice and the power of knowing — knowing your rights, the rights of others, what steps you can take if you feel someone’s taken advantage of you,” Pimentel said. “My community doesn’t have those tools, but I hope that my going to law school will give a voice to more people and inspire more first-generation students to take this route, too.”