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Alumna Lhesly Navarrete Fernandez Sees Immigration Law’s Big Picture

DePaul Law alumna Lhesly Navarrete Fernandez ('19) works as an asylum officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), previously serving as a staff attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). As a student, she participated in several legal clinics, was a member of the Moot Court Society and Latino Law Student Association, and she served as president of the Society for Asylum & Immigration Law. 

Born in Mexico and raised in California, Fernandez' interest in the law began when, as a child, she witnessed her mother seeking legal advice and the “attorney basically dismissed her. That sense of injustice always stuck with me." She also wanted to attend law school because of her desire to increase diversity in the legal community, which, to this day, s­till has low percentage of minority attorneys.

Immigration law was Fernandez' personal passion.  She understood how it could impact the lives of entire families, and she was ultimately attracted to DePaul Law because of its myriad opportunities in that area. “Before applying to law school, I spoke with every immigration attorney possible," she recalls, “and all of them talked about DePaul'sAsylum & Immigration Law Clinic. I'm an experiential learner, and that was the law school's biggest selling point. It had a dedicated program and a dedicated faculty where I could really learn to practice immigration law." 

Since finishing law school, Fernandez' work with the NIJC and USCIS has enabled her to experience two different sides of immigration law. “NIJC gave me the opportunity to present and put on a case, but USCIS showed me what it takes to adjudicate that case." In her current role as an asylum officer, she adjudicates asylum cases and credible fear determinations. While with NIJC, she worked with asylum seekers from all over the world. 

One case that particularly stuck with Fernandez was a client she represented through the National Qualified Representatives Program, which allows a judge to appoint counsel to a non-citizen if they're deemed incompetent. The client—who came to the U.S. as a minor—was severely limited and was able to obtain asylum based on a mental health claim. 

To Fernandez, immigration law is representative of a bigger picture.  “It is a historical reflection of our country's morals and ethos at the time. What we value; how we evolve." This “bigger picture" mindset extends to Fernandez' work with clients, as immigration encompasses many areas of law. As she explains, “Many detained clients need a holistic approach.  They don't just need an immigration attorney; they need a family attorney or a criminal attorney. Learning about other areas of law is crucial to being a good immigration attorney." 
As for the future, Fernandez says, “While I'm not one hundred percent sure where I want to end up, I do want to continue to work in asylum law, aid vulnerable populations and grow my knowledge in the field.  It's an area of law where there is always something new to learn."