UCDC: An Enriching Academic Experience at the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration

Although this year’s University of California Washington D.C. program was conducted remotely due to COVID-19, it remains one of the most enriching experiences of my academic career. At the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration, some of the top immigration lawyers in the country trained me to provide legal assistance and Letter of Protection services for those in ICE Detention. From weekly training sessions conducted by ABA staff to daily phone calls with those trapped in ICE detention facilities, I witnessed the practical implications of national immigration reform and how the modern political climate influences the law. While I could not explore the city or interact with my fellow students on an in-person basis, the UCDC experience presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with notable instructors, public officials, and some of the sharpest legal minds in the country. After completing the program, I feel better prepared to embark on the next stage of my professional career, which was my ultimate goal for my time in Washington.

As a non-traditional re-entry student, I may not have applied to UCDC had it been conducted in person. Family and financial obligations likely would have prevented me from seeing the true range of benefits such a program offers. Over the past ten years, I have lived in over a dozen different cities, so I was not concerned with the travel experience itself but rather the opportunity to better prepare for law school and beyond. Above all, I was hoping to gain some practical legal experience and bolster my resume in advance of this Fall’s application season. At the time, I could not conceive how important the program itself would be to my personal development. UCDC has afforded me a genuine opportunity to help those in need, develop professional contacts, prepare for the next phase of my academic/professional journey, and foster lifelong friendships.

In comparison to the private, for-profit university I formerly attended, the UC system has demonstrated a superior commitment and ability to recruit the best professors in the country. UCDC follows this tradition by giving students the chance to learn from those with professional political and legal experience. I sought to get a glimpse into what my life would be like as a professional political operative and how I would stack up against students who were often many years younger than I. Through UCDC, I gained a new sense of confidence within myself, not only in my ability to live up to my expectations as a student but to think critically, ask questions, and learn from those around me.

While the remote experience may not be appealing to everyone, I would recommend UCDC regardless of how the program is delivered. The online program was dynamic and engaging. In the same morning, I could expect to be on the phone with my mentor, an incoming Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration; then I would quickly transfer over to my internship at the American Bar Association, where I provided pro-se legal assistance to ICE detainees. I helped those in ICE detention file complaints, obtain representation, and get in touch with local aid organizations who could be of the greatest assistance in their case. It was an emotionally charged experience, but it was also the first time I felt that my work had a measurable and positive impact on people’s lives. From there, I would transfer again to my seminar course, conducted by a former Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the House, Professor John Lawrence. He quickly became one of my closest advisors and a mentor throughout the semester. All of this occurred within the comfort of my own home, which, while understanding the tremendous limitations of remote instruction, is somewhat miraculous.

I genuinely did not know what to expect partaking in UCDC for my second-to-last semester of college, when the program was just adapting to a strictly online format. While my internship was always quite rewarding, I learned to expect that I could not protect every person from deportation. Often we didn’t even know what happened to the people we had been working so closely with, which made the phone calls we received from individuals after they have been released from detention that much more rewarding. I knew then that what I was doing was important, that showing up for work every day and doing my best in itself could make a real difference.

I am so grateful to have been selected as a Matsui Fellow this past semester. I could be of service to those who need our help the most, and that is all anyone could ask for. I made lifelong friendships, networked with highly respected figures, and gained practical experience that has forever shaped my professional and academic career, as well as how I view the world; I even fell in love. I could not expect such a diverse and life-changing program anywhere else. This Fall, I will begin the application process for my J.D., applying to some of the top law schools in the country, including USC, UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford, and NYU. I will take everything I learned from my UCDC experience to this important next stage of my life and career in public service.