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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Committed to Diversity: Cris Ibarra '79, American Dream Maker

With work on two continents and expertise in a multitude of legal arenas—immigration, business, family, employment, and trademark law—Cris Ibarra ‘79’s San Francisco-based practice gives new meaning to the term eclectic.

Some of his immigration clients are talented academics, athletes, and artists seeking “extraordinary ability” visas, such as the two Nigerian soccer players who went on to play in the World Cup, or the Brazilian artist whose work is at the Smithsonian Institution. But the bulk of Ibarra’s immigration work helps ordinary individuals from around the globe who want a shot at the American Dream.

That’s something Ibarra has firsthand experience with. At age 15, he came to San Francisco from the Philippines with his mother and siblings, following his CPA father, who accurately predicted political turmoil back home. Ibarra had it easier than many immigrants do today. “Between 1965 and 1969, the United States opened its doors to Asians,” he says. Ibarra already spoke English when he arrived, in addition to Filipino and Mandarin. Hard work came easy, thanks to a rigorous education at a Jesuit Chinese school in the Philippines.

After high school in San Francisco and a degree from UC Berkeley, it was on to UC Hastings. That was during the turbulent 1970s, and Ibarra was part of a movement that closed down the school for a couple of weeks to protest limiting admission of women and minorities. The movement started with the Asian Law Caucus, of which Ibarra was a member. “We took it to the Regents and won,” he recalls.

Ibarra still found time to get a great education. He especially loved an immigration course that he took, as well as Rudolf Schlesinger’s conflicts of laws class. “I couldn’t get into Professor Schlesinger’s class, so I sat in on the lectures for the entire semester,” he says. “It really helped me later in one of my cases that last for years and ended up in the Ninth Circuit.”

Today, Ibarra regularly travels to Southeast Asia, where he provides consulting services to companies developing local infrastructure. And he’s collaborating with UC Hastings to create a visiting scholars program that would encourage law students, practicing attorneys, and judges from overseas to take courses in San Francisco. With his multilingual abilities, Asian heritage, and business expertise, Ibarra is the perfect person to make it happen.

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