When California Secretary of State Alex Padilla raised his right hand to personally swear in Luis Perez ’10 as a member of the state bar in 2018, it was a major milestone in a journey that spanned decades and crossed borders.
Perez’s arduous path had taken him from the schoolyards of Jalisco, Mexico, to a teenage role in California as a high-profile advocate for immigration reform, to UCLA Law, where in 2010 he became the school’s first undocumented immigrant to earn a degree. And just a few weeks after he stood before Padilla and beside an American flag, he finally won the right to remain in the United States permanently, thanks to assistance from members of UCLA Law family.
“Had it not been for that community effort, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Perez, the legal services director at the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). Residency, he said, is “definitely the biggest, most important change in my life since I arrived here when I was nine: I’m not deportable for the first time in 27 years.”
Before Perez earned his bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 2005,he participated in the law school’s Law Fellows Program, where aspiring attorneys from disadvantaged backgrounds gain exposure to and a boost toward entering the legal profession.Upon his subsequent admission to UCLA Law, a network of teachers, classmates and alumni pooled resources to help Perez pay his tuition; the price was too steep for a student whose undocumented status prevented him from getting loans and who worked odd construction jobs to make ends meet. Today, the school’s Achievement Fellows program offers full-tuition scholarships to qualified students who have overcome extraordinary hurdles to pursue a law degree.
Through UCLA Law, Perez also met alumna Judy London ’90, who taught the law school’s asylum clinic and directs the Immigrants’ Rights Project at Public Counsel. She took on his case and spent the next decade working to stop his deportation and secure his permanent residency. She said, “Luis is an amazing human being, but his story is also about how many amazing people without DACA are struggling.”