NEW ORLEANS – Alexis Ruiz’s nearly lifelong memory of her mother’s immigration-related issues sparked her interest in becoming an immigration attorney at an early age. Today, Ruiz is a 2016 Tulane Law School graduate who served as the first Latina president of the Tulane chapter of the Student Bar Association, and has been lauded by her peers and school officials for her work.
“I listened intently as the attorney told my mom that she should pack up all of her things as soon as possible because she would be deported any day,” Ruiz told the Louisiana Record, referencing her memories of her mother’s immigration challenges. “My mom handed the receptionist a hard-earned $100 bill and walked out of the office, three kids in tow. These types of visits to attorneys would continue draining my mother of any expendable income for eight more years.”
Ruiz’s mother is not the only member of her family that has struggled with immigration issues. Although her father was eventually given amnesty after a border-crossing that involved being chased through the Sonoran desert by border patrol agents, Ruiz said her mother “overstayed her student visa and was not able to adjust her status until 2009.”
In addition, Ruiz’s brother-in-law, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was deported and is still waiting for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process his paperwork so he can return to the United States and be with his wife and daughter. Another sister is planning to move with her children to Mexico City in July to be with her husband, who was also deported.
“They will leave the U.S. with all of their promise and potential because of a broken U.S. immigration system,” Ruiz said.
As an immigration attorney, Ruiz said she wants to “help people get ahead of potential future immigration situations like the ones in my own family” and to provide civil and human rights workshops to undocumented immigrants. She also hopes to raise awareness about family separation to the legal community in an effort to convince more attorneys to take on pro-bono immigration cases.
“The fact that I have personal experience with family separation will make me a tremendous asset when speaking to a community that is so vulnerable,” Ruiz said. “After I actually pass the bar (knock on wood), I want to be an advocate for the community that I have always belonged to -- the immigrant community in the U.S.”
In addition to serving as president of the Tulane Student Bar Association, Ruiz was awarded the General Maurice Hirsch Award. The recipient is selected by the law school’s faculty as the student who has contributed most distinctively and constructively to community needs. She also enjoyed a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” as a White House intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, which she said “is a glorified name for the president’s mailroom.” After working on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and inaugural team, Ruiz worked for the legislative director of the United Auto Workers.
“During my time with the UAW, I crafted language for the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill and marched for immigrant rights on the national mall,” Ruiz said. “I continued to learn in-depth about immigration law and policy and quickly realized that law school would be my next step.”
Ruiz said the breadth of her accomplishments hit her when she was selected to represent the law school at the inauguration of Tulane University’s 15th president, Michael Fitts.
“I had one of those moments when you see your life flash before your eyes in second-long episodes, but the episodes weren’t excerpts from my life, they were excerpts from my parents’,” Ruiz said. “Those feelings are hard to describe.”