Learn more about each of our amazing recipients below!
Tania Escobedo (she/her) built an academic and professional background that set a foundation for understanding the intersectionality of health navigation access. Tania was brought to the U.S when she was an infant and is now a DACA recipient. She and her siblings used their learned English to help their mother navigate health systems. Eventually, Tania had to survive as an undocumented homeless youth and the lessons she learned from this experience grew into a desire to help other immigrants and undocumented folks feel safe utilizing resources available to them. Tania recognized barriers in healthcare from a young age, noticing how many healthcare workers, practitioners, and clinicians did not have the cultural competency to support immigrant and marginalized communities of color.
Tania began her academic path at San Bernardino Valley College, which gained her admission to UCLA for her bachelor’s degree. Tania recently graduated with her master’s degree from the University of Chicago in Health Administration and Policy. Her work in health equity while in the program made her determined to pursue a law degree and use her analytical skills to work in the law and policy landscape to affect change. Working with lawyers building interdisciplinary coalitions to repeal policies, Tania came to admire the application of health literacy and legal policy education that lawyers were able to translate. Nowhere in her academic trajectory had she experienced more effective policy implementation for marginalized communities than at the hands of lawyers—driving, supporting, implementing policies, laws, and regulations. Her primary purpose is to join the ranks of lawyers in advocacy, make knowledge accessible to her community, and generate equity by doing so. Tania was admitted to biomedical doctoral programs for fall 2022 and is actively preparing to apply for Juris Doctor (J.D.). She believes that the proper translation of research into policy, applied through equitable law regulations, ultimately creates a more significant impact on disinvested communities most in need of healthcare access.
Yanet Gutierrez (she/her) was born in Toluca, Mexico. The first of her siblings to attend college, Yanet considers herself privileged for having an education and has known from a young age that she wanted to become a lawyer. She believes that getting an education is not about obtaining a degree but a responsibility to create paths, so that others like her do not have to struggle quite as hard.
Yanet wants to inspire other immigrant women and mothers to chase their dreams. Her motto is: “No matter where your journey takes you, you can accomplish anything; you can overcome anything.” She wants her community to remember that no matter how difficult things may seem, we are the only ones who can set limits to our accomplishments. We must believe in ourselves.
Bryan Hernandez Benitez
Undocumented and unafraid, Bryan Hernandez Benitez (he/him) is a first-generation, low-income fourth-year transfer student from East Los Angeles College studying English and City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Throughout the summer, Bryan will participate in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at Princeton University where he’ll spend weeks taking courses in statistics, economics, and public policy in addition to developing a research paper under the guidance of the Executive Vice Dean of the School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University, Miguel Centeno, Ph.D.
Pursuing law first became a dream of Bryan’s at the age of 12, but this dream transformed into a tangible goal in the summer of 2017, during which he served as an intern at a law firm. Throughout his internship, Bryan observed a troubling lack of Latinx representation in the legal profession. Since then, Bryan has volunteered as a peer academic and college counselor throughout his senior year of high school and time at community college, working to increase Latinx and undocumented student representation in higher education. After finishing his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, Bryan plans to pursue a J.D./M.P.P. dual degree in hopes of blending law and public policy to address inequities affecting undocumented communities.
Ewin Joseph (she/her) is an undocumented immigrant from Haiti. She wants to go to law school to study constitutional law and civil rights as well as family, gender, and sexuality law. Becoming a lawyer will not only allow Ewin to pursue her dream of advocating for people’s rights, but it will honor her dad who never got the opportunity to fulfill that dream for himself. Ewin’s passion for social justice, anti-racism, and anti-discrimination combined with her growing interest in gender and sexuality justice has reinforced her desire to pursue a career that involves finding practical, equitable ways to solve social issues that impact not only individuals, but the community at large.
Ewin is interested in working toward reforming and creating policies that can protect the rights of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) through an understanding of what people need at the intersection of their private, professional, social, and intellectual lives. These factors, when considered alongside social location could greatly affect issues such as reproductive rights, sexual assault, family and child welfare, bodily autonomy, and gender and sexual discrimination. It could create pathways for trauma-informed, preventive, and comprehensive approaches to health. Ewin hopes to advocate for these rights through her legal career.
Nour Kalbouneh (she/her) and her family immigrated to the United States when she was just 5 years old from a war-torn country. Three years later, her family was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and they entered immigration proceedings. When the United States decided to deport Nour’s family, they found out that their country of origin had revoked their citizenship, leaving them not only undocumented in the United States, but statelesss in the world at large. This experience made Nour decide that she wanted to become a lawyer so that she could advocate for immigrants and help them navigate the justice system.
In 2021, Nour graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in philosophy from Eastern Connecticut State University, where she was the commencement speaker and senior class president. While in college, Nour interned for the New England Innocence Project, where she learned how severely the system can fail by incarcerating innocent individuals. This further fueled her passion for fighting injustice. Currently, Nour works at the ACLU of Wisconsin as their Legal Intake and Community Engagement Coordinator, where she fights to protect civil rights for the most vulnerable populations. She plans to apply to law school this upcoming fall, and wants to become an immigration and human rights attorney.
Jenny Kim (she/her) was born in Gangwon-do of South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. in 2008. Because her parents stayed behind in South Korea, she was separated from them at a young age and grew up in Southern California under the care of her grandmother. When she discovered her status and recognized the flaws of the U.S. immigration system, as well as of other U.S. institutions, Jenny found hope in the community and a passion for advocating for and supporting its most vulnerable members.
Jenny attended the University of California, Irvine where she graduated in 2020 with a BA in Criminology, Law, and Society. Jenny currently works with National Korean American Services and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) as an immigrant justice fellow and does work around immigrant rights advocacy and AAPI organizing. Jenny believes in grassroots community organizing and #Citizenship4All. She envisions herself attending law school to fight for what is just, and to obtain the power to protect her dreams as well as those of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Sharon Olubajo (she/her) was born in Dublin, Ireland and arrived in the United States at the age of 3. She has resided in Georgia most of her life and is currently a rising senior at Oglethorpe University, majoring in bio-psychology on the pre-law track. At Oglethorpe, Sharon has taken on several leadership roles as Sophomore Senator of Student Government Association, President of Women in Science Empowerment, Treasurer of National Society of Leadership and Success, and more. As the progeny of two Nigerian immigrants, Sharon consistently expresses the impact her culture has on her life and works with organizations like Books for Africa and the Black Student Caucus to uplift the voices of Black youth.
As an immigrant student and a Black woman, it is challenging to qualify for the same opportunities as her peers. However, that has never stopped Sharon from going after what she not only deserves, but has worked so hard to accomplish. Her love for science, psychology, and public health has led her to pursue law, and she plans to earn a studio art minor during her last year at Oglethorpe. After undergrad, she plans to continue her education by attending law school to become a healthcare lawyer. While not on campus, she has established a love for community organizing and outreach. During the summer of 2021 she was an immigrant justice intern for Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). As a lawyer, Sharon hopes to give back to the community that has aided and uplifted her. She appreciates the Immigrant Rising Pre-Law program for giving back to students like herself.
Chaewon (Jessica) Park
Jessica Park (she/her) immigrated from South Korea at the age of 11 with her family. As an undocumented immigrant without DACA, Jessica has faced many challenges as she navigated her way through high school and college. The lack of resources and support made it harder for her to do her own research and eventually prompted her to serve her community. Now, she works as an Immigrant Justice Organizer at MinKwon Center for Community Action, a community-based organization located in Flushing, Queens.
Jessica also works as a Project Researcher at the City University of New York Initiative on Immigration and Education (CUNY-IIE) to support a research project led by scholars on examining the importance of having immigrant educators in schools. She hopes to attend law school to study immigration law and give back to the community that has taught her to embrace her undocumented identity.
Esteban Salazar (he/him) was born in Cuautla Morelos, Mexico. He immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and two brothers at the age of 8, and grew up in the over-policed community of Santa Ana, California. He attended Santa Ana College and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in 2019. He majored in Spanish and Portuguese Language, Literature, and Culture and minored in Race and the Law. Esteban’s identity and adversity as an undocumented individual have been the impetus for reaching his education and career goals, and while at UC Berkeley he fostered a deeper passion for making legal resources more accessible to immigrant communities
In addition to environmental factors like poverty, violence, lack of resources, and discrimination, undocumented people face extra systemic barriers that prevent them from being complete and active members of society. Esteban has been committed to helping his community overcome these barriers and while interning at non-profits in SoCal and the Bay Area, he has supported community members in family law, immigration, landlord-tenant disputes, and workers’ rights. Esteban now works as a paralegal at the intersection of criminal and immigration law (“Crimmigration”) for a firm in San Francisco. Esteban hopes to attend law school and continue conducting research to decriminalize immigrants and make resources more accessible.
Iris (they/them/she) and their family left beautiful Zihuantanejo, Guerrero at the age of 12 due to the lack of justice for women and children seen not only in that state, but in all of Mexico. Iris has known domestic violence and child abuse from an early age, and at the time they immigrated, they already knew intimately the power of injustice. Migrating to the States meant an end to suffering and Iris played a big role in the conviction of the man that abused them and their family. The experience showed them that this country can deliver justice. That is why, when Iris turned 19, they did not hesitate to sign up for community college, despite being undocumented. They could not work in the legal field then, but the moment Iris received their work permit, they began to look for jobs related to law.
Iris worked for a criminal justice attorney for the past few years, and is now learning personal injury law. After a long journey, they are just one semester away from graduating with their bachelor’s degree in political science and being able to enroll in law school. Iris wants to go to law school because they know there are many parents out there who remain quiet under injustice due to fear of deportation. Iris believes children should not have to suffer abuse in a country that offers freedom. Finally, the experience of standing in a courtroom, speaking up for their family at a tender age, so that they could finally be free, motivates them to do the same for other families.
We are excited to follow their trajectories as they aim ever higher in their work of transforming their communities through a career in law.
We are only able to do this work because of generous community support through the years. Please consider supporting our programs through your donations here.
This year’s Pre-Law Fund is made possible because of the generous financial support of these incredible donors: Kathryn Abrams, Tanya Broder & Theodore Wang, Yuen & Sandra Gin, The Arturo & Rosa González Family Giving Fund, Johanna Hartwig & Stefano DeZerega, Barry Hovis, Elizabeth J. Kramer Charitable Fund, Francine Lipman, Nakada Hoang Donor Advised Fund, Snehal Patel & Ami Sanghvi, Jorge Ramos, Jeannie & Christopher Rhee, Stephen & Zorinne Schwartz Family Fund, Jay Sherwin, Margaret Wong, and Steve Yale-Loehr.