Omar’s Winning Essay:
“Are you sure? A lot could change within a year.”
In 2019, I decided to take a gap year after college and understood the worry in my mother’s voice. Thoughts of my grandmother’s struggles during her immigration to the U.S., my mother dropping out of community college after her first semester due to hardship, and fears of deportation of family members raced through my mind. Uncertainty has been a prevailing theme in our family, and pausing my studies meant that I assumed a risk for my future and my family’s.
This uncertainty in my personal life led me to the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) during college and my gap year. At NSC, I assisted families facing uncertainties surrounding deportation by conducting intake interviews and preparing asylum petitions.
One of my most rewarding cases was when our friend Gerardo and his four-year-old son were granted asylum. They fled Nicaragua from persecution after Gerardo refused to join the Sandinista Youth in the government regime’s suppression efforts.
For fourteen months, I volunteered late nights with Gerardo as an interpreter, drafted his asylum petition, retrieved articles from Nicaragua that highlighted the political turmoil, and prepared him for his hearing. Thanks to the NSC community, Gerardo is now reunited with his mother, and he is raising his son in peace and earning a living doing what he loves – baking.
This experience motivated me to become a lawyer and I enrolled at Seton Hall Law School. However, my mother’s concerns for our future were well-founded. Unfortunately, as I am approaching the end of my 1L year, my family has been separated from my stepfather, who was undocumented and had his inadmissibility waiver revoked due to an oversight while applying for a visa in April 2023. He is now in Ecuador indefinitely while he secures another approved waiver in two to three years.
Without my stepfather at home, I must contribute financially and help my mother raise my two brothers and care for my elderly grandmother while I finish law school. As a full-time student, this affects the financing of my law school studies, as I must now be a provider for my family.
However, I am prepared to make sacrifices for those I love while still pursuing my law degree. This summer, I am interning for Judge Madeline Elizabeth Cox Arleo in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey in Newark. In addition, I was fortunate to be selected to join Seton Hall Law Review for the upcoming academic year.
While I will be seeking part-time work during the semester to help my family, the Dressel/Malikschmitt Social Justice Scholarship would tremendously help us navigate this hardship during my 2L year by covering tuition costs so that I can better help pay for my family’s expenses.
As I reflect on these difficult times, I realize that the uncertainty felt by immigrant families is compounded by barriers such as hardship, language, and the inability to navigate inaccessible institutional systems.
I have felt the weight of these barriers throughout my life. I felt them when the Child Study Team at my school gave my mother a document requesting a psychological evaluation of me for special education due to my attention deficit disorder. The diagnosis turned out to be false and I now keep that document as a reminder of why community support and educational access are so important.
After graduation, I plan to remain in New Jersey and pay it forward to my community in Hudson County, New Jersey. Currently, I serve as a mentor to high school students in the American Dream Pipeline Program of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey.
As a first-generation law student, I understand the challenges of preparing for higher education and the importance of small gestures and what they can do to point a young person in the right direction in the college and law school admissions processes.
Before law school, I coached a youth baseball league for two years in my home town of North Bergen, NJ. I enjoyed teaching and was also able to inculcate the importance of discipline and higher education in them. Without the support of friends and community resources, being a college graduate and a provider for my household would not have been possible.
Continuing my legal education will equip me with the tools and knowledge to help other families navigate the legal frameworks and uncertainties that exist in our everyday lives. One day, I hope to be a scholarship donor and support the next generation of rising lawyers from Hudson County.