During her final year at Suffolk University Law School, Leila Fajardo-Giles devoted herself to immigration cases.
The work hit close to home for Fajardo-Giles, a “dreamer” from Lima who faces an uncertain future because her protection from deportation comes from a federal policy that President Trump wants to rescind.
“It was definitely ironic,” said Fajardo-Giles, 27, an Allston resident who was scheduled to get her law degree late Sunday afternoon during a ceremony at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in the Seaport. “I’m hoping something comes out to stabilize my situation.”
While working for the school’s Immigration Clinic, Fajardo-Giles said she helped a 16-year-old immigrant win asylum status, but never told the girl about her own personal struggle to stay in the United States legally.
Fajardo-Giles is among about 690,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who have been in limbo since the Trump administration announced plans last September to end the federal policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The program was to be phased out beginning in March, but recent rulings from three federal judges have kept the Obama-era policy alive.
Fajardo-Giles, who was brought to the United States by her mother when she was 7 years old, said her DACA protections will remain in effect until at least November. She said she is planning to take the Massachusetts bar exam in July and hopes to practice immigration law.
Fajardo-Giles said her work experience includes jobs as a paralegal in the city’s Law Department and as a neighborhood liaison for City Councilor Josh Zakim.
Ragini Shah, a clinical professor of law, said the teenage asylum seeker Fajardo-Giles represented initially was reluctant to share her story and only gave vague accounts of the abuse she experienced at the hands of an older sister in her native El Salvador.
The teenager crossed the Mexican border into the United States alone, Shah said, and came to Massachusetts to live with her father in Chelsea.
Fajardo-Giles, however, knew that immigration officials wouldn’t approve the girl’s asylum application unless she could convince the teenager to recount in detail the violence she faced at home, Shah said.
“I don’t think we would have won asylum. Those details made the difference,” she said. “It feels like you’re prying into your client’s life if you’re asking those detailed questions. Leila found a way to do it that didn’t seem like she was invading [the teenager’s] life.”
Fajardo-Giles said she relied on her ability to speak Spanish to prepare the girl for a crucial interview at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston.
Immigration authorities decided in February to approve the teenager’s request for asylum, meaning she can get a work permit and driver’s license and becomes eligible to apply for financial aid to help pay for college, Fajardo-Giles said.
Next February, the teenager can apply for permanent residency.
Citing confidentiality rules, Fajardo-Giles declined to identify her client.
Ragini Shah, a clinical professor of law, said Fajardo-Giles hasn’t let the uncertainty she faces over her immigration status interfere with her legal training.
“I feel that anyone would be lucky to have her as a lawyer,” she said. “I’m glad that she’s interested in this area because I think we need more people like her.”
Fajardo-Giles said she’s grateful to be earning a law degree, saying she shares the accomplishment with her parents who helped her get to graduation day.
“This is kind of a degree for them as well,” she said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was small.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.