Karen Suárez Jiménez was interning at her local library when a man rushed in with his young daughter, frantic because he’d just been pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Because he was undocumented and didn’t have a driver’s license, he wondered if he was about to get detained and deported. Jiménez was able to talk to him in his native Spanish, but she had no reassuring answers.
She understood his fears: Her own family came to the United States undocumented, and she’s a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient.
“My parents and so many of my community members faced the same situation,” she said. “And being in a place where I couldn’t even tell them what to expect or give them the comfort that they really needed from a legal perspective, just made me feel so helpless.”
She decided to drop her education major in favor of a pre-law track. Now a third-year student at University of Wisconsin Law School, Jiménez has experienced the thrill of helping clients win their asylum cases through the Immigrant Justice Clinic. But she realized that immigration law is not something she wants to pursue full-time.
“It’s tough to live in a space where I am so grateful to be able to help people benefit from a system that is so complex and, in many cases, unhelpful,” she said. “But I also have to be in that space knowing that perhaps my family members or I could never benefit from what I’m able to do for these people.”
Jiménez also found ways to connect her learning with her Indigenous heritage. Last summer, she explored Indian law through an internship in the Office of the Solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.
“There are so many questions going forward to the Supreme Court that require some knowledge of federal Indian law,” Jiménez noted.
She has also been a leader of the Indigenous Law Student Association (ILSA) and loves working on the Coming Together of Peoples Conference, the nation’s longest student-run conference on federal Indian law. One highlight from this past year was a flag ceremony in which ILSA welcomed back to campus Indigenous nations that have ancestral ties to Wisconsin.
“It’s tough to live in a space where I am so grateful to be able to help people benefit from a system that is so complex and, in many cases, unhelpful, but I also have to be in that space knowing that perhaps my family members or I could never benefit from what I’m able to do for these people.”
It has been a memorable law school experience—and one that was almost out of Jiménez’s reach. As a DACA recipient, she is not eligible for in-state tuition or federal financial aid. Thankfully, private scholarships made it possible for her to attend UW Law.
“I’m so thankful that there is support for undocumented students. I would not be able to afford my legal education if it wasn’t for those donors,” she said. “So many minds will never have this opportunity because of that financial barrier, but the developments in the legal system that could come from those minds are unimaginable. There is so much that I know can come from my community, and I hope we continue seeing growth in support for students like me.”
By Nicole Sweeney Etter