By Sara Gold, Editor-in-Chief
On weekdays, Miriam Hernandez greets students and visitors with her bright smile as she sits at her receptionist’s desk just inside the admin building, near the Business Office/Financial Aid/Registrar’s Office. She works as an administrative receptionist and also aids with facilities management, including helping students reserve classrooms for meetings and events.
But her hard work extends past the walls of the admin building. Every other Monday evening, Hernandez volunteers at the Community Law Project’s downtown clinic, where she’s been volunteering regularly for almost two years. This month, the organization named Hernandez its Volunteer of the Year.
Cal Western’s Community Law Project (CLP) is a program where law students work with attorneys to provide free legal services to low-income and indigent clients at multiple clinic sites. Over the course of about four hours, Hernandez helps with set-up, documents clients’ information, and sits in on some counselling sessions. As a fluent Spanish speaker, she also translates for Spanish-speaking clients.
“She handles clients inside and outside the clinic with patience and compassion,” said Dana Sisitsky, CLP’s Executive Director. “[Her] knowledge and the compassionate manner in which Miriam provides [assistance] allows clients an increased level of comfort before they even set foot in our clinics.”
Hernandez says that she greatly enjoys seeing Cal Western students and attorneys helping the community.
“It’s a win-win: our law students develop and utilize the concepts they learn in the classroom and apply them to CLP clients, while clients are being assisted,” she said.
The downtown clinic handles a lot of immigration matters, an area Hernandez is intimately familiar with. Though she was born in San Diego, her parents are from Mexico. She grew up in Tijuana and crossed the border every weekday to attend school and learn English. When Hernandez was 11 years old, her parents decided to move to San Diego to live the American Dream, while her two older sisters stayed in Mexico. She and her parents eventually settled down in San Ysidro, a San Diego community just north of the Mexico border.
Hernandez remembers the lengthy legal process for her father to become a legal U.S. resident: “I guess going through the process made me realize how complex immigration law is and how many are in need of help. Immigration law for me is hope.”