On Friday Quinnipiac University School of Law graduate Denia Perez participated in a morning ceremony at the Museum of Connecticut History where she took the oath to be admitted to the Connecticut Bar with about 100 other people.
Each person who took the oath from Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson had passed the July bar exam. But many eyes were on Perez for the history she was making.
Surrounded by reporters, her family and friends, 28-year-old Perez became the first beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be admitted to the Connecticut bar.
The Obama administration created the program in 2012 to protect children of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday.
For Perez, whose parents brought her from Mexico to the United States illegally when she was just 11 months, the road to becoming a lawyer was not easy. She, along with others, fought to change the rules in Connecticut to let people like her practice law in the Nutmeg State.
Perez spoke in Hartford in May in favor of amending the state’s Practice Book.
The Rules Committee recommended approving the change and then, in June, during the annual meeting of the judges, the Practice Book language was amended. The old language read: “To entitle an applicant to admission to the bar … the applicant must satisfy the committee that (1) the applicant is a citizen of the United States, or an alien lawfully residing in the United States.” The amended language adds the following at the end of the last paragraph: “which shall include an individual authorized to work lawfully in the United States.” That language benefits “dreamers” with work permits.
Perez told the Connecticut Law Tribune late Friday the media attention she has received “is kind of strange, but it’s important for me to get the message out there, so people know that this is now in effect and that DACA recipients can be admitted to the Connecticut Bar.”
While some have called her a role model, Perez, a California native, said, “In the literal sense I guess I can see why some would call me that, because I am paving the way for others. But I don’t want to rest my hat on this. It’s a good kind of pressure and motivation for me to keep doing good work.”
Perez is currently a fellow at Make the Road New York, a community-based organization in New York City that does advocacy work in on housing, immigration and employment issues. She is working primarily on immigration issues, has a two-year fellowship, and will be with the organization through September 2020.
Her job prospects after that are still up in the air. Perez said she’d consider working in Connecticut, but also might stay in New York or even move to California, where most of her family lives. New York and California are among about 10 states that allow DACA recipients to practice law.
“I’d like to eventually move into policy and philanthropy work,” she said. “I’ve never really seen myself at a law firm.”
Perez not only works on immigration issues, but has strong feelings on the topic.
“Our entire immigration policy needs to reformed. There are a lot of terrible things happening in immigration right now,” she said. “We have arbitrary caps on family and employment and humanitarian-based visas that just do not make sense. We are not going in the right direction.”
Perez’s mother, Genoveva Noriega, who flew in from California to watch her daughter get sworn in to practice law in Connecticut, said she couldn’t be more proud.
“I am thankful, proud and happy. There are a lot of emotions,” Noriega said. “I am also excited in knowing she’s the first person in our family to be successful and to graduate from college and have a degree.”