Julia Sedlack / Contributing Writer
Fernanda Herrera graduated from Samford University in May of 2017 with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Latin American Studies. She is currently a J.D. candidate at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
In addition to conducting independent research as a University Fellow while at Samford Herrera was a summer fellow with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and served as an intern for The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2016.
Herrera and her parents are undocumented immigrants. Herrera entered the United States with her family when she was 2-and-a-half
“I don’t remember it,” she said, “which means that I don’t remember anything about my origins.”
NPR featured Herrera in an article on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy which—while protecting Herrera—did not shield her family from the continued threat of deportation.
“I went to (high) school in Gadsden, Alabama, and was very quiet about my status as an undocumented student. My days were filled with uncertainty about my family’s finances and future, especially once we became involved with immigration courts.”
In those uncertain times, Samford provided an unexpected place of solace for Herrera.
“When DACA was announced, I struggled to find resources that would guide me through the college admissions process. Because private schools don’t get public funding, they were more apt to admit DACA recipient,” Herrera said.
However, Herrera said attending Samford also carried a financial burden but Samford’s University Fellow program helped provide Herrera financial assistance.
“I knew I had to attend a private school, which meant I would have to pay more money. Admission to the Fellows program and the scholarship I received facilitated that for me.”
It was during Herrera’s time at Samford that she first considered studying law.
“I got involved with the immigrant rights community in
Birmingham,” Herrera said. “I struggle with my lack of satisfaction with U.S. policies towards immigrants and minorities…and I am connected to both through my love for them and desire for their improvement.”
Herrera’s own personal experiences also inform her calling.
“Our communities fall prey to notary fraud frequently,” she said. “My family fell prey to a notary scam and that was how we ended up in deportation proceedings,” she said. Herrera said these legal woes inspired her to attend law school.
“This experience and the difficulties community members told me they had finding bilingual legal representation spurred me to pursue a legal education,” she said.
Even as Herrera continues to flourish, the legal battle for her family is still far from over, as her mother was arrested and sent to a detention center this past March.
“Even with all of the help we had, (the proceeding) was still very difficult emotionally and financially, it has been difficult for me to figure out if I want to practice immigration law because of how draining that experience was. I am not sure that I could feasibly encounter cases like these every day and not break down. I hope that I can, but until then, I will allow myself the room to heal.”