Immigration vocation: Latina law student aims to help people come to the U.S.

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A Latina of Mexican-American descent, Sierra Yslas was born and raised in Tucson, 60 miles from the Mexican border, and where Mexican culture is very much woven into the fabric of the city.

“I have family and friends who are from Mexico, or who are first-generation,” she says. “When immigration policy started changing a few years back, I decided I wanted to get involved in helping people who want to come to the U.S. for better opportunities.”

With a passion for politics after taking A.P. Government in high school, Yslas originally entered undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona as a political science major with a pre-law focus.

A first-generation college graduate, one of very few in her immediate and extended family to hold a degree beyond a high school diploma, and the very first in her family to strive for a professional degree, Yslas ended up finishing with a psychology degree, and intended to follow that career path.

After graduation, she worked as a Clinical Subjects Associate for the University of Michigan on a substance abuse research project with military personnel participants; and at the University of Arizona, worked as a Senior Clinical Research Coordinator on a large national, multi-million-dollar precision medicine initiative through the National Institutes of Health, and supervised a team of research staff in an outpatient medical clinic.

“However, I always kept law school in the back of my mind,” she says. “After three years in a research career and with political happenings, I decided I wanted something more fulfilling that directly helped people.”

Her interest in people and their inner-workings has helped keep Yslas aware of the human-interest element in law.

“My psychology and academic research background allowed me to work one-on-one with people from all backgrounds, so I have that ability to truly connect with individuals and actively listen to them,” she says. “As a future attorney, it will be helpful for me when working with clients.”

She applied to law school with a career goal of practicing immigration law or other federal law in Michigan and in Arizona.

“My ultimate career goal is to be a working snowbird, where I spend most of my winter in Arizona and summers in Michigan,” she says. “I’m not sure how practical this is but it’s my dream legal career situation.”

Now in her 2L year at Wayne Law, the Damon J. Keith Scholar relishes the school’s connection to Detroit and its proximity to downtown, where she enjoys the history and architecture, the many cuisine options, and the perseverance of the city and its citizens.

A law clerk at Mindell Law in Bingham Farms, Yslas is enjoying what is her first law-related job. After working full time at the office three days a week this past summer, she is now working part-time from home.

“There are actually a lot of similarities between law clerking and academic research tasks,” she says. “The attorneys and staff have done a wonderful job of teaching me practical tasks and I’ve really strengthened my legal writing skills.

“Most of my job is interviewing potential clients and taking that information and putting it in a memorandum to the assigned attorney. I also conduct legal research, type of draft motions, write demand letters, and review medical records.”

Yslas, who is aligned with the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, is serving as co-president of the Latinx Law Students Association, and has enjoyed the process of getting LaLSA up and running along with fellow co-president, 3L Shirley Rivas, and advocating for the group.

“Last year, I noticed Hispanic Heritage Month was not represented or acknowledged at the law school. However, after Shirley and I corresponded with the Communications team at the law school, they did an excellent job of showcasing and highlighting Hispanic Heritage Month this year and will hopefully continue in the coming years. This is something I’m extremely proud of assisting in implementing,” she says.

“The goal of LaLSA is to build a supportive community that advocates for students. Latinx people are severely underrepresented in law school, though we are 18 percent of the U.S. population and growing. We face unique challenges and we often come from working class backgrounds and are first-generation students. LaLSA also hopes to assist in pre-law Latinx student outreach.”

Like her fellow students, Yslas is coping with the realities of life during a pandemic, and working and studying at her home in Dearborn Heights.

“It’s been rough but I’m trying to make the best of the situation and practice self-compassion,” she says.

“I was able to transform my attic into a finished office. This allows me to physically separate my school and work life upstairs from my home life downstairs. I also try to go outside or go for car rides often to get out of the house.”

Her hobbies include politics and current events, and classic cinema.

“And pre-COVID, I loved going to concerts,” she says. “I also enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes—it’s a creative outlet for me.”




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