Maribel Hernández Rivera ’10, district director for US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, delivered the 2019 Latinxs in the Law Lecture on October 28. Shaping her remarks in response to questions from audience members, she recounted a path that began with her arrival in the United States at age 13 as a then-undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
“There’s some of us here who share similar experiences, and it’s important to hear from others that share experiences like [yours], so that you don’t feel like you’re alone,” Hernández Rivera said in her remarks.
Growing up in the US, Hernández Rivera said, she encountered “amazing” educational opportunities but also worried constantly that she might be deported. She chose to attend NYU Law for its strength in immigration law, she said, citing the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, taught by Professors of Clinical Law Nancy Morawetz and Alina Das ’05, as a transformative experience. After clerking for Judge Mary Schroeder of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and practicing as a litigation associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Hernández Rivera worked at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Immigrant Justice Corps before serving for three years as executive director of legal initiatives in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Selected remarks by Maribel Hernández Rivera ’10:
“I should say that I am very impressed with [the phrase that] a lot of the community uses now… ‘undocumented and unafraid.’ I have to be honest with you. I was undocumented and always afraid.”
“So I remember, when I applied to NYU Law, my essay was all about I want to help undocumented immigrants. And to be honest, when I looked at that essay, I thought, ‘Well maybe that’s going to disqualify me, and maybe that is a reason why I won’t get into law school.’ And I said, at that point, ‘I think that’s fine because if I don’t go to law school with my true self, then there’s no point.’”
“It was so empowering to come to NYU Law and be able to say, ‘These are my issues, I care about immigrants’ rights. I don’t know how to do it, I’m afraid.’… But Nancy [Morawetz] is not afraid, Alina [Das] is not afraid, and a ton of other people are not afraid. And that started giving me some sense of like, okay, maybe I shouldn’t be afraid.”
“What I learned at NYU Law, is that it’s not just about being a lawyer. It’s about being an advocate. It’s about community lawyering, where you’re thinking about what does a person on the ground—what are they experiencing? How can you amplify their voice? How can you use the tools that you have, but also at the same time, how can you step back when it’s not your turn to speak? When it’s [somebody else’s] turn to speak, or even an organizer’s turn to speak. Because this fight, and again this is one of the things I learned here… this fight takes a lot of different skills, right?”
Posted December 9, 2019