By far one of the greatest ways USF Public Interest Law Foundation helps to make an impact in our community is by providing grants to USF Law students who choose to pursue unpaid summer legal work. This past summer, 25 remarkable students were selected to each receive grants of $4,000. We are proud to offer these grants through the generous donations we receive throughout the year as well as through several fundraising events sponsored by USF and PILF.
Our largest fundraising opportunity is the Annual PILF Gala and Auction. This year’s Gala and Auction takes place on November 4th. As the Auction draws nearer, we want to take a moment to introduce our most recent 2011 Summer Grantees in the Q&A’s below.
Maria Becerra Breaks Down Her Summer Spent At the D.A.’s Office
Maria Esmeralda Becerra was born in East Los Angeles, but moved to Hernandez, San Luis Potosi, Mexico shortly thereafter. After kindergarten, her family moved back to southern California and settled in the San Fernando Valley. Maria moved to the Bay Area after high school and has lived here ever since. She attended U.C. Berkeley and obtained double Bachelor of Arts degrees in Rhetoric and Legal studies. This summer she worked at the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office.
Why did you choose law school, and why USF in particular?
A great mentor of mine planted a seed in my head that not only should I be the first in my family to graduate from college but also should be the first to graduate from law school. Although he gave me the extra push, the interest arose from a personal experience with immigration laws. My parents were undocumented but received deferred action which authorized them to work in the U.S. However, with no other protection they were often victims of employment negligence, fraud, discrimination and violence. As a victim myself- my brother having been killed in a drive-by shooting- I felt that the quality of life for immigrants had to change and I wanted to be part of a solution. I came to law school to be a voice for justice and felt that U.S.F. was the perfect place for me. I also loved that U.S.F. was considered one of the most diverse law schools in the nation and was located in one of the best cities in the world.
What kind of work did you do this summer, or what type of projects did you work on?
This summer I had the opportunity to work for the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office. Volunteering as a law clerk in the Misdemeanor Unit provided me an opportunity to practice my writing, my oral skills and my ability to present evidence in court. On the second day of the internship I appeared in Traffic Court on behalf of the People to prosecute Traffic Infractions before a commissioner. Three days later I was at the Hall of Justice opposing seven motions to suppress.
Working at the District Attorney’s office was invaluable. Listening to passionate and skilled prosecutors talk about their work in developing the law in the areas related to Gangs, Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence and other issues affecting marginalized communities was inspiring. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the D.A.’s Office.
What do you find most inspiring about the organization you are working for?
There are many things I admire about the D.A.’s Office; however I would have to say that what I find to be the most fascinating and also the most important is their ability to define what justice is. The prosecutors are in charge of upholding the law on behalf of the people and this requires evaluating evidence, understanding the collateral consequences of criminal charges and taking into account the victims. They are essentially the ones who have the ability to obtain justice.
Are you interested in public interest legal work as a career? What sort of law would you like to practice?
I am fully committed to public interest work. Although I am not sure what area of law I’m going to focus in I am interested in pursuing a career with the District Attorney’s Office. Alternatively, I am interested in immigration and family law. No matter what I end up doing, I know I will be engaged with the public interest community because it is dear to my heart.