In the “Where are they now?” series, we introduce you to former IJC Fellows and share their stories — how they became a Fellow and how their Fellowship experience informs their work today.
Leslie Joya, a 2015 Community Fellow and 2021 Justice Fellow, explains how IJC’s two Fellowships gave her the confidence to pursue a career in immigration law. Leslie completed her Community Fellowship with IJC and her Justice Fellowship with the UNLV Immigration Clinic.
What brought you to IJC?
I was drawn to IJC because of its intensive model and the opportunity to make a real difference in immigrant communities. I had considered a career in the law, but I did not have many opportunities or connections to gain experience. IJC gave me a chance to undergo an intensive immigration law training and hit the ground running with providing legal services.
What made you decide to pursue a Justice Fellowship?
I always had the Justice Fellowship in mind throughout my time in law school. I knew this would be a great way to build a strong foundation for my career as an immigration attorney. I also applied because I wanted to be part of a program with a strong sense of community that shares resources, guidance, and support as we navigate this challenging work.
What was most fulfilling about your Fellowship experience?
The most fulfilling part was seeing the tangible impact that my work had on my clients. It was so rewarding to be able to see a case through to the end, particularly because immigration cases have such high stakes.
How did your Fellowship experience inform the work you do today?
My community fellowship gave me the experience and confidence to believe that I could become an immigration attorney. Managing a caseload, researching to properly screen for eligibility, and being in direct communication with my clients all gave me a good sense of what I could expect as an attorney. Starting to build those skills early definitely helped me adjust in my first year as an attorney.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started the Fellowship?
It is difficult for advocates to accept that it is not possible to help everyone. I wish I had known how to handle dealing with this when I started my fellowship. It was hard to deal with situations where I had to advise someone that they were not eligible for something, or that I would otherwise be unable to help. I tried to remain positive and learned that even taking the time to thoroughly explain to someone why they were ineligible was still a helpful service because it would prevent them from falling victims to fraudulent promises of representation. These experiences also taught me that it is important to be informed and involved in campaigns to amend our laws and remove some of these barriers.