BY ISN STAFF | May 4, 2019

Fernanda Herrera Vera, a first-year law student at Loyola University Chicago, is not in Chicago completing her semester with her classmates. Instead, she is in Ragland, Alabama, serving in an unusual role for a young aspiring attorney—supporting her family’s business, driving her brother to school…and navigating the immigration legal system as her mother faces deportation proceedings.

Fernanda (front) with her parents and brother

Fernanda and her parents have lived in the United States since 1997, after fleeing violence in Mexico. She has been a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient since the program’s inception in 2012, and she has served in numerous roles as an immigration reform advocate in Alabama and beyond.

On April 2, 2019, Fernanda’s mother, Luz, was detained by local authorities for a traffic violation, along with her father and Fernanda’s 17-year-old U.S.-born brother, who were handcuffed and later released. Her arrest occurred in Gwinnett County, GA, a 287(g) county, a designation in which ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) enters into an agreement with state or local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration enforcement agents.

She was in detention until the family was able to pay her bond on April 15, and advocates were able to gather more than 2,500 signatures from local and national advocates, including members of the Loyola University Chicago community, in that brief time petitioning against her detention. Luz made an initial appearance in immigration court earlier this month, and with the assistance of legal counsel will seek legal options that do not result in detention or eventual deportation.

The family has established a fundraising campaign to help cover legal fees. According to a UCLA study, individuals in removal proceedings who obtained legal representation were five-and-a-half times more likely to be granted some sort of legal status that permitted them to stay in the United States than those who did not have the representation of a lawyer.

Luz served as an invaluable support to Fernanda as she navigated college admissions as a DACA recipient and the challenges of college life as a first-generation college student, caring for her as she managed recovery related to a major car accident, and pushing to prepare for the LSAT and apply to law school.

“My mother reminded me that her sacrifices were made so that I could have the opportunity to become a professional in my chosen path,” shared Fernanda. “When I became discouraged, she helped me overcome my fears.”

Fernanda and her family at her undergraduate graduation.

That support is not limited to Fernanda. Her 17-year-old U.S.-born brother, Carlos, is currently training with the Olympic development soccer team, and their mother serves as his manager. Luz has served as a caretaker to family members at the end of their lives, working multiple jobs to cover medical expenses.

The Herrera Vera family owns a restaurant in Ragland, Alabama, and are active members of their community, attending St. James Catholic Church in Gadsden, Alabama during the week and Prince of Peace in Birmingham, Alabama for weekend Spanish mass. They are active with Casa Maria Convent in Irondale, Alabama, donating time and food. “The couple of weeks she was gone everyone asked where she was,” shared Fernanda. “She is loved by everyone who meets her and makes lasting relationships with patrons who quickly become family.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect additional information regarding legal proceedings and the importance of legal assistance.

For updates on the Herrera Vera family’s situation and other immigration issues, please join the Ignatian Solidarity Network immigration list

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