Detroit Mercy Law student fights for immigrants' rights


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News


Nara Gonczigsuren’s original career goal was to work as a dentist in underserved communities; and with that in mind, she earned her undergrad degree with a major in biology and minor in leadership from the University of Detroit Mercy.

“After a number of amazing experiences within that field, I realized my true passion was change and impact on a large scale and that passion was best served with becoming an attorney,” she says.

“I applied to law school because I saw gaps between where our society was and where I wanted it to be, and it seemed like many of the people on the front lines of narrowing those gaps had law degrees. It was only natural these beliefs drove me to attend law school to fight for justice through the law.”

She chose Detroit Mercy Law because of its emphasis on social justice and service to others. Now in her final year of law school as a Detroit Mercy Law Fellow and 2020 Voice for Justice Fellow, she is on a career path to be on the front lines of compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

Prior to law school, Gonczigsuren was an immigrants’ rights organizer and helped organize a local DREAM Act campaign through press conferences, town halls, direct actions, and community education programs that mobilized constituents and targeted elected officials locally and in Washington, D.C.

She also provided undocumented high school students with support and resources for pursuing higher education, led Know Your Rights presentations, organized DACA renewal workshops, and assisted in urgent response intakes.

During undergrad, she also was a service trip leader, traveling across the country to explore issues of racism and homelessness.

“I led a group of students during a week of immersion, service, and reflection in St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, after police killings resulted in widespread protests and calls for change,” she says. “I also spent a week volunteering at Loaves & Fishes, a homeless services shelter in Sacramento, and learned about the underlying issues facing homeless communities.”

In law school, Gonczigsuren worked as an immigration law clerk at Pastor & Associates in Troy, where she conducted research on specific country conditions for individuals’ asylum cases, and communicated with clients to obtain proper information and documentation to assemble a variety of different immigration application packages—asylum, DACA, permanent residency, citizenship, immigrant relatives, travel documents, employment authorization, immigrant and non-immigrant workers, and cancellation of removal.

“I enjoyed working with fierce female attorneys and staff that are doing the hard and honorable work of keeping families together,” she says.

Gonczigsursen also volunteered at the ACLU of Michigan on a project where she helped gather evidence on how the 100-mile zone border policy leads to racial profiling, detention, and deportation. And this past summer, she returned to the ACLU of Michigan to spend four months interning remotely, with assignments dealing with detention practices, facility conditions, and seeking release of medically vulnerable incarcerated individuals during COVID-19.

“It was a profound experience I know I will carry with me as I pursue my legal career,” she says. “I’m honored to have been able to work with an incredible team of passionate attorneys serving those who lack access to justice during this pandemic. Being a part of the ACLU team increased my ability and desire to be an effective legal advocate that makes long term impact.”

Serving as president of the Immigration Law Association allows Gonczigsuren to continue her immigrants’ rights activism on campus. The organization’s goals are to advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, encourage conversations about immigration at school, bring awareness to how newly enacted laws and policies affect immigration, and enhance the professional development of members through networking with attorneys in a variety of different careers in the immigration field.

Last semester, the association hosted speakers from Mexico talking about their work in serving individuals removed from the United States to Mexico, and speakers from El Salvador talking about projects encouraging at-risk youth to express themselves through art.

“We also had a taco sale fund-raiser for Puerto Rico earthquake victims, and a debate on DACA in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling on whether the DACA program will continue to protect 800,000-plus undocumented youth,” Gonczigsuren says. “This semester, we have hosted successful virtual events about the impact of COVID-19 on America’s incarceration system of jails, prisons, and detention centers, as well as what is at stake for undocumented immigrants in the upcoming election.”

For a long as she can remember, Gonczigsuren had progressive views and believed in equality for all—leading her to join the American Constitution Society in law school. 

“As a 1L, I was very happy to find this progressive outlet and became a committed member,” she says. “As a 2L, I served as the secretary of our ACS chapter. As a 3L, I proudly serve as the ACS president at a time where it’s critical that we—especially as future lawyers—fight for our democracy and the Constitution to protect the rights, humanity, and dignity of all people.”

“This fall, we’ve planned important virtual events discussing criminal justice reform, immigration reform, and voter advocacy.”

Gonczigsuren was honored at the 2017 commencement ceremony with the Vivere ex Missione Award, given to one undergraduate student who best exemplifies the mission of University of Detroit Mercy.

“As a law student, my passion for social justice and commitment to serving others remains as I continue working towards social change and the common good,” she says.

Throughout the pandemic, Gonczigsuren has been busy with studies, extracurricular commitments, work, and community activism.

“I always try to find time to take care of myself so I can stay healthy and continue taking care of others,” she says.

She has lived most of her life in Sterling Heights, where in her downtime she enjoys dancing, traveling, and vegan cuisines.

“I know what it’s like to need help, therefore it’s with great happiness and understanding that I lend a helping hand,” she says, adding that Detroit brings people together through activism, community, and opportunity.

Two people in particular have been supportive in her life’s path.

“My mom—my passion for justice and activism is rooted from her,” she says. “And my partner—he is with me through it all and is my best friend.”


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