This is a guest blog post by Veronica Canton, NDLS 2018.
I currently represent Notre Dame Law School in the Board of Governors (BOG) of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) in the capacity of National President of the Law Student Division (LSD). I oversee a board of 27 members ranging from regional presidents to various vice presidents focusing on certain topics, including but not limited to intellectual property, externships, job opportunities, and online education, to name a few.
Advocacy Day Logistics
The Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) invites members to participate in the Advocacy Day event to speak to their representatives regarding non-partisan agenda items which are chosen based on the effect policies have on the Hispanic community at large. This year, the HNBA’s agenda focused on the following five policy issues:
- Legislation to protect the status of, and create a path to citizenship for DACA recipients
- Legal representation of minor children asylum seekers
- Timely confirmation of diverse judges to the federal bench and diverse nominees to the executive branch
- Criminal justice reform
- Addressing Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria
All participants received online training prior to the initial HNBA team meet-and-greet. During the team meet and greet, we asked questions regarding advocacy day process, meeting schedules, location, and other logistics. After the meet-and-greet, we had a reception at the McDermott Will & Emery office in Washington, D.C.
I had the opportunity to participate in five meetings with other HNBA members. The meetings were with staff members of: Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14). I was given the opportunity to hold a one-on-one meeting with a staff member of Congressman Bradley Schneider’s office (D-IL-10).
My Personal Experience
When I first started law school, one of the pieces of advice I received repeatedly was to network. Needless to say, I have taken that piece of advice to heart. Another piece of advice I received was to join professional lawyer associations that align with my interests. I’m a member of at least five, possibly more, bar associations. I am the most active with the HNBA. I first connected with the HNBA through their Intellectual Property Law Institute. However, I have found the HNBA has numerous committees and activities which I’m involved in.
I chose to participate in Advocacy Day for personal and professional reasons. I came to the United States when I was nine years old by crossing the Mexico-US border illegally. I am one of the fortunate kids that was able to receive an immigration remedy through Temporary Protected Status (TPS) many years ago because El Salvador, the country where I was born, was going through a civil war.
Eventually, I was able to become a US Citizen. Before starting law school, I worked with a pro bono team helping women and children seek immigration remedies and protections such as TPS.
The HNBA’s agenda this year resonated with me for many reasons. Why? In attending Notre Dame Law School, we are trained to be a different kind of lawyer. What does that mean to me? That as future a attorney, I should look to be a good attorney who is also socially and morally conscious of the effects of my advocacy. Being a different kind of lawyer is not just a tag line to me; it is a way of life.
Two agenda items are very near and dear to my heart: (1) DACA because of my personal journey as an immigrant and (2) getting support for legislation that approves the provision of legal representation to minor children who are going through immigration proceedings.
. . .
My plane just took off, I am headed back to South Bend. I am tired. No, I am exhausted. I chose to participate in the HNBA’s Advocacy Day even though I had to miss a few classes. All my professors were supportive of my endeavor. I shared with all my professors the information about the HNBA agenda and why it was important for me to attend.
Initially, going to capitol hill to meet with legislative representatives in both Congress and Senate sounded intimidating. In reality, it was a great experience.
Once we arrived, we had a meeting to get to know our colleagues, ask questions and connect with our respective teams. We were broken up into five groups, according to regions throughout the US. I was part of the Midwest team. We received packages with information specifically addressing the five agenda items we were to discuss during our meetings. We also received detailed profiles of the Congress and Senate legislators we were meeting.
After our meeting and q/a session, and mixer on February 27, I went back to my room so I could review the speaking points regarding the agenda items, the congress members’ profiles, and to prepare my speaking points. My preparation paid off.
I showed up to Senate an hour before our meetings as I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to get through the security line. Once there, I connected with other team members.
At the meetings, I made sure to share my personal journey and connected it with two points: (1) DACA and (2) legal representation for minors in immigration court. Other team members addressed the importance of diversity in judicial appointments, criminal justice reform, and Puerto Rico relief.
Everyone we met with was receptive to our agenda items. Everyone seemed receptive as to the need for immigration reform. I feel happy and conflicted at the same time. As I go back to school, I can’t wait to put my training to use toward moving the needle forward on these items. I can honestly say that the training I have received in law school made me feel confident and prepared for these meetings.
The last meeting of the day was with a staff member of Congressman Bradley Schneider’s office (D-IL-10).
It felt great to talk to his staff member. It didn’t feel like a business meeting. It felt like a candid conversation about the issues that were part of the HNBA agenda. But also, when I shared my story with her, when I shared where I live (in Congressman Schneider’s district) and where I am in school, I felt she was truly interested in my story. I truly felt I made a connection with her. I feel that by being myself, being genuine, and offering my help, I was able to open up a door for what I hope will be a positive and long-term relationship.
I think that many times we approach people in an office to ask for help without attempting to make a personal connection. Personal connections matter. Being genuine matters.
I truly believe I would not be where I am if I wasn’t genuinely interested in establishing positive relationships with people I meet.
Advocacy Day to me wasn’t about making a specific ask to legislators and then hoping to receive something in return. Rather, it was about getting face time with people who are working toward long-term solutions AND offering my help. By offering help, I feel I leave open the possibility to have a long-term relationship with legislators in a region where I seek to practice law for the foreseeable future.
These meetings were important to me because the issues we talked about matter. Most of all, to me, they were about planting a seed for me to be part of a solution. And yes, I offered my help to both republican and democrats alike because all the issues we were talking about, although they are partisan in the political discourse, are issue of human need that align with our NDLS and UND values.