Marisol Ramirez first heard about NLSLA in 2010, when she saw President and CEO Yvonne Mariajimenez—who was then serving as the organization’s Deputy Director—speak to a group of churches engaged in social justice work in their communities.
“She was amazing,” Marisol said. “She was so knowledgeable, and she left such a strong impression on me.”
Marisol was already on the path to law school, but Yvonne’s presentation underscored for her the responsibility lawyers have to advocate for people who are living on the margins.
“It really cemented my determination to make room for community work,” she said.
Marisol’s parents are both Mexican immigrants who were undocumented for a time. When she was 14, the family was asked to leave their home in Ontario, which they had been renting since Marisol was only a few months old.
“The owner wanted the house,” she said. “We had 14 years of stuff and we had to leave within 30 days. My parents tried to ask for more time but the owner refused to discuss it.”
Marisol’s parents, afraid to invite trouble, scrambled to leave quickly.
“It might have been technically legal, but it felt unfair,” she said. “It was the first time I thought about becoming a lawyer.” Marisol understood that the law could give agency to people who felt powerless.
After completing her undergraduate studies at Harvard, Marisol began law school at Columbia University. In her second year, she served as the student representative for a person in the midst of immigration removal proceedings. Her client was a legal permanent resident who was convicted of drug possession. He had been in the US since he was a child, and now had four US citizen children of his own, and a mother who relied on him financially.
“The livelihood of the entire family was at risk,” Marisol said. She fought for a cancellation of the removal. When it was finally granted after she graduated, it taught her a powerful lesson.
“You don’t have to be a model citizen to deserve to be in this country,” she said. “’We all are human and we make mistakes. And it’s so important to approach immigration law with compassion.”
Immediately after law school Marisol joined Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles office. The firm had a public interest fellowship program that allowed lawyers to work at a local nonprofit for two months. Marisol chose to work with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, and continued to do pro bono work with the group throughout her eight years at Sidley. One of the cases she worked on challenged President Trump’s policy to revoke humanitarian legal status for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Nepal and Honduras. She was part of the team that won a preliminary injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs that has protected their legal status for the last five years while the case makes its way through the courts.
Today, Marisol is working with DTO Law, a top boutique firm in Los Angeles. She also serves on the board of the Mexican American Bar Foundation and will become president of the Latina Lawyers Bar Association in 2024.
She is excited to join NLSLA’s board, and to help the organization work towards its goals.
“There’s so much at stake in civil cases, and it’s something most of us don’t think about unless we are in that situation” she said. “Legal aid—it helps level the playing field.”