Alejandra Guillen, a graduate of the University of Southern California and University of Washington, has led Immigrants Rising’s Legal Services Program since 2014.
Before coming to our organization, you worked at Mission Asset Fund, running a program to help immigrants get loans for DACA fees. Why have you spent your career working on issues related to to immigration?
I grew up with family members living in my house, whether it was my dad or my uncle or my cousins who were undocumented. I really learned about the privileges I had merely because I had been born in the U.S. I wanted to be able to provide support to immigrant communities.
Being here has just blended a lot of my interests. My passion is working with immigrant communities and supporting young folks around education because I myself am a first-generation college student, knowing the lessons learned and the trial and error that I had to go through.
What insights have you gained about immigration law during your time here?
Legal services are important because the law is so complicated, and for me, that’s just a huge injustice. Why are all these things so difficult to understand? We want folks to get access to information about immigration law so they can learn more about their status and decide, with full knowledge, what path they could take and/or what opportunities and challenges are in their path.
For me, I see success as just one individual being able to recognize, “Yeah, this is the path I want to take,” or, “Actually, I tried that, and that’s not the way for me.” People need to be able to own it, the direction they want to take, the goals, and the strengths and skills that they already bring to it.
How has working here impacted you?
Being here has provided a support and space to really try new things and to push myself to grow. I also feel like I could reach out to a number of folks within our community and they would have my back, would offer me their home if I needed. Folks are really welcomed here, regardless of their background and where they’re at.
What is important to keep in mind as our organization moves forward?
The community piece is particularly important right now in this climate. I’d like to see us build on that. We’ve grown so much over the 10 years plus that my hopes for the community is that there are easier ways for us to be able to connect and reach out to one another. I’m imagining this amazing network where someone’s like, “Hey, I need support in this.” And someone else in the community is like, “I got you,” or, “I know someone who can help you out.” Because I feel like having a good network really helps to forward you in your advocacy, career aspirations, personal life, and everything else.