Law Student Spends Summer Assisting Immigrant Children

young Latina woman smiling wearing professional clothes
Mary Ruiz, J.D. ’23, is working as an advocate for unaccompanied immigrant children through a public-interest internship in New York City this summer.

UC Hastings Law student Mary Ruiz De La O is spending this summer helping unaccompanied immigrant children navigate the complicated U.S. immigration system. Ruiz, a rising 3L student from Portland, Oregon, is an inaugural Elizabeth Frankel fellow doing an internship with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in New York City. The Fellowship supports law students as they learn to advocate effectively for immigrant children and families.

What are your duties?

I primarily work as an advocate for unaccompanied immigrant children while they are subject to immigration proceedings and held in detention facilities. I help them think through decisions, spend time with them while they are in detention, develop best-interest recommendations, and then advocate for the child’s best interest. I also do legal research and writing. My summer colleagues and I co-wrote and submitted a report to the to the United Nation‘s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Why is this work important?

I believe immigration work centered around children is important because unaccompanied migrant children are vulnerable to abuse and harm at the border and in detention facilities. Migrant children deserve access to legal representation, child advocates, and other resources. They deserve to have adults protect them, advocate for their best interest, and empower them while they navigate challenging systems such as the U.S. immigration system. They also need advocates that see them as full people with the ability to communicate their needs and desires, while also considering their development.

How will this help your legal career?

I hope to continue building skills that will serve me as a public interest attorney, especially skills centered on protecting the autonomy and humanity of those in custody and/or detention. This work allows me to think critically about partnerships that can exist between multiple stakeholders. It has led me to reconsider what partnerships provide the best advocacy for my clients. Lastly, this experience has allowed me to practice my creative advocacy and bilingual skills in a legal setting. It has also made me more confident in my ability to advocate for and explain (often very confusing) legal systems to children.

More about Ruiz

Ruiz previously worked as a research assistant for the UC Hastings Center for Racial and Economic Justice and as a legal intern with the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office. Before law school, Ruiz also worked as a project coordinator at East Bay Community Law Center, which advocates for and provides legal services to economically disadvantaged community members.

Ruiz is part of the first class of Elizabeth Frankel fellows. The fellowship was created to honor the life of the Young Center’s former Associate Director and Child Advocate Elizabeth Frankel. Ruiz’ summer work is funded by both the fellowship and the Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation (HPILF). HPILF awards dozens of grants each year to students who do public-interest work at non-profits and government agencies; work that would otherwise be unpaid. The grants are made possible by money raised by HPILF, and funds donated by alumni and allocated by Chancellor and Dean David Faigman.