Dr. Claudia Alvarez holds a sign saying Free Them All while protesting conditions that detainees being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement face during the coronavirus pandemic.
Her road toward a career in law began with a journey across the Chihuahua Desert.
While Monica Andrade now works as a successful lawyer in Michigan, she still remembers her humble beginnings, crossing the desert from Mexico to Arizona with her family when she was a small child.
“I was in a very similar situation to a lot of the people when we had the family separation crisis,” she said. “I came to the U.S. when I was six and I remember going through the desert with my mom and my two siblings so growing up I knew how important law was.”
Andrade said that she became a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because she could relate to the clients and types of cases the nonprofit takes on.
Despite her up-close and personal experience with immigration laws in the United States, the path to representing and defending that law would slowly develop over time. First, with an understanding that she didn’t belong like the rest of her neighbors did.
Leaning into her passion to help people, Andrade first pursued a career in social work.
“I knew that I needed this paper,” she says. “In my mind, when I was 10 years old, I knew ‘I cannot be fully human without this paperwork,’ and I knew how important the law was.”
Seeing her family impacted by immigration law and policies fueled Andrade’s desire to give back and help people. By the time she attended college, she was still an undocumented immigrant.
“I lived in fear a lot. I was hiding a lot. A lot of my colleagues who I was in college with didn’t know what was going on.”
Andrade had settled into her career as a social worker in – of all places – a local detention center in Flagstaff. While she enjoyed her work, she said the help she provided was limited.
“I decided there is this line that I can’t seem to cross when I want to help people,” she shared with The ‘Gander. “And it’s because I can’t show up to court for them.”
Andrade described the trauma of getting to know people, only to find that they had disappeared; the Coconino County jail becoming a temporary home before deportation. She questioned how and why people were jailed when their only crimes were coming to the U.S. in pursuit of better lives for themselves and their families.
“I can’t imagine what that’s like. You spend 20, 30 years in this country and then all of a sudden your father is gone or your mother is gone,” she said. “And then I decided to go to law school.”
While Andrade’s road map to a career in law began to take shape, her exact exit on the highway was pure happenstance. She said she was introduced to the ACLU when SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration laws, was introduced. But there was still no desire to join the cause. Yet.
“On my last day at the detention center, I very respectfully went to one of the lieutenants who worked there [to say goodbye],” she recalled. “One thing I remember him saying was, ‘Oh I heard you were going to grad school. Congratulations. Just don’t go and be one of those ACLU lawyers.’”
The young Andrade went home, looked up the ACLU online, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I thought, ‘Well why wouldn’t you want to be an ACLU lawyer’?”
She landed an internship with ACLU Arizona her first summer summer out of law school and hasn’t looked back since. Andrade now works for the organization in metro Detroit, where they are fighting for the release of immigrants from Michigan’s coronavirus-ridden jails.
Arizona inspiration led to Motor City liberation for the girl from Mexico.
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