'Lawtina': Law student of Mexican heritage helps immigrants

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Veronica Beltran’s passion for immigration stems from her upbringing in a Mexican immigrant family. “My grandfathers were both braceros from Guanajuato and Sinaloa, and my father emigrated with aspirations for a brighter future that was passed down to me as a first-generation law student and soon to be ‘Lawtina,’” says Beltran, a 3L evening student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, a full time member of support staff in the Immigration, Trademark, and Family law clinics, and a weekly volunteer at the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center (SWIRC).

“I continue to be passionate about immigration because I see my own family’s story and sacrifices intertwined in the stories of the clinic’s clients that came to the United States to work hard and make this country great.”

At the immigration clinic, Beltran has gained legal experience while helping the most vulnerable clients in Michigan’s immigrant population, and enjoys using her legal skills and her native Spanish.

“Combining the two allows me to hone in on the specific legal issue clients have, all while making them feel comfortable speaking in their native tongue to someone who can understand them and their culture,” she says.

Volunteering for the walk-in clinic at the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center exposes Beltran to a variety of legal issues.

“There aren’t many free legal aid clinics, and this clinic has become a vital resource for the community,” she says.

Her most challenging experiences involve working with detained clients.    

“It’s easy when your client can visit an office to take care of matters such as signing required forms, doing intake, and prepping them for trial—it’s much more challenging to complete these tasks when your client is detained,” she says.

Beltran appeared as a law student for a Cuban political asylee in a bond hearing. Prior to the bond hearing, she visited a detention center 45 minutes from Detroit for the client to complete and sign his asylum application and to speak with him about the persecution he faced in his home country.

“It also wasn’t easy for our client to contact us—phone calls from jail are costly and our client had very limited resources as he left everything he had and owned in his home country and spent an exorbitant amount of money to arrive to the United States,” she says.

Beltran serves as Central Region Director of the National Latina/o Law Student Association, and in collaboration with Detroit Mercy Law’s Hispanic & Latino Law Student Association, organized a Midwest conference for Latino pre-law and law students. The NLLSA Central Region encuentro (meeting) offered students opportunities and resources to become successful in the legal field as well as to be more responsive to the legal needs of their community. Panelists included Latino graduates of Detroit Mercy Law, and the keynote speaker, Lawrence Garcia, the City of Detroit’s first Latino to serve as corporation counsel.

“It was beautiful to host an event with trailblazing students and ‘Lawtinos’—Latino attorneys—who are breaking the ceiling in representation and advancement in the legal profession,” Beltran says.

A student member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, Beltran serves as co-chair for the law student activities committee.

“Being a part of this association has been vital to my growth and confidence that I’ve gained throughout law school,” she says. “HBAM is a familia to me that I can count on for advice and support.”

Beltran has shared her experiences of law school with students at her alma mater, West Ottawa High School, as well as at the annual Dia de La Mujer conference at Michigan State University— started by MSU students and staff to highlight the accomplishments of Latina women and empower them to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

“I’m very passionate about inspiring and motivating students of underrepresented communities to pursue a career in law,” she says. “Latinos only make about 4 percent of U.S. lawyers, and Latinas make up less than 2 percent of that, although we make up about 18 percent of the U.S. population and continue to grow to become the largest minority population of this country.    

“When I meet with these students, I always encourage them to consider a career in law, as their bilingual and bicultural abilities will help them be successful, while helping and representing their community. I feel the duty to pass down my knowledge and experience with younger students and to show them that if I made it—someone from their same community—then they can too.”

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