Haley Freeman 2014-06-03 03:16:03
DEFENDER OF DIVERSITY Delia Salvatierra is a first-generation American of Cuban and Nicaraguan descent, whose own experience as a person of color differs greatly from the individuals she represents. “My parents had the red carpet treatment when they came to the United States. My parents were Cubans fleeing communism for a free society. Because of that perception, they were afforded benefits that most Mexicans aren’t granted. Immigration was never an issue for me growing up,” Salvatierra said. Salvatierra grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District, where she and her family made a comfortable place in the city’s ethnically diverse culture. “Growing up in a city where diversity was a main staple was a wonderful experience. Even though my parents were poor working class, I grew up in a very multicultural, diverse, open and tolerant community. The beauty of San Francisco is that everyone is different, everyone has an accent, everyone has a story. I fit in because my story wasn’t any different.” After growing up in what she describes as a “conservative Catholic household” and attending parochial school, Berkley was a perspective-altering experience. “My father was a very conservative man, who loved Reagan. After attending Berkley, I became a liberal. I had been exposed to a level of social injustice that I’d never been aware of before. After that, my dad and I never really agreed on anything again,” she laughed. Salvatierra first worked for the EPA, and then went on to work with Native American tribes. “I worked in the U.S. Indian Programs Office for Region 9,” she said. “That is where I came to understand issues of Native Americans and helped to solve land issues. I helped to take land into trust for economic development.” Salvatierra returned to school, attending UCLA to obtain her master’s degree with a goal of doing more environmental work. Her path then took her to law school at Arizona State University, where she intended to focus on Indian law. About halfway through law school, she decided to take an immigration class. “I became involved in immigration issues and it’s all I’ve been doing since,” she said. Early on, Salvatierra found her transition from the multicultural community in California to Arizona to be an adjustment. “Arizona struck me as an extremely conservative, homogenous environment. Nowhere near as diverse as California. In particular, Arizonan Latinos aren’t as socially active or as involved in the fabric of society. Over the years, I do think the environment has changed for the better both culturally and politically.” Helping undocumented residents in Arizona is Salvatierra’s most gratifying professional role. “What I do gives me great joy,” she said. There is probably nothing other than family that makes me more happy and satisfied with myself than the work I do. I am very results-driven. My practice is focused on preventing my clients’ deportation and banishment from the United States. These are people who are seeking an opportunity to become a part of the American dream by becoming lawful residents. Sometimes, my job is to provide them with representation and dignity if circumstances do not allow them to remain.” Recently, Salvatierra has been representing a number of undocumented workers who were targets of business raids by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office. “One of the recurring themes among these individuals is that many were hired by employers who knew they were undocumented and then would help them to obtain false information,” she said. Part of Salvatierra’s criticism of the county’s action is her belief that their “desire is to punish undocumented employees and eradicate immigrants from the state of Arizona.” The Arizona prosecutors have been using identity theft and forgery statutes to criminally punish unauthorized employees. Salvatierra pointed out that that authority only lies with the federal government. “Our beef with the way Arizona prosecutes for identity theft and forgery is that it is outside the state’s authority,” she said. “The county attorney purposely charges these people with class 4 felonies or higher, so that they are not eligible for bond. They are then forced into plea agreements that include deportation in order to get out of jail.” Salvatierra also contends that these are essentially “victimless crimes,” yet the sheriff’s office has been heavy-handed in its raids of offending businesses, surrounding buildings with armed officers and taking workers into custody “like a herd of cattle.” “Our firm is dedicated to the representation of undocumented individuals,” she said. “We practice criminal defense as well as immigration law. We are probably the only firm that successfully litigates immigration-related identity theft cases. Identity theft work has, to some extent, brought a halt to raids being conducted by the sheriff. There is also an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Maricopa County, defending the federal government’s authority over immigration matters. Arizona is a state that has attempted to intrude upon federal power, but it has not been successful.” In spite of her proximity to the recent immigration controversy in Maricopa County, Salvatierra describes her relationship with the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office as one based upon mutual respect. “We don’t always have to agree, and we often don’t, but I appreciate their open door policy and willingness to allow defense attorneys to advocate for their clients to be reunited with their families,” she said. “As lawyers, I think we sometimes forget that their job is to remove individuals from this country, and there are individuals who probably don’t deserve the opportunity to remain here. I’ve seen them do right more often than not, and I think we are very lucky to have the leaders we do at the local ICE office.” To Salvatierra’s detractors who feel that her defense of illegal residents is unpatriotic, she said, “My colorful background and upbringing was from immigrant parents who loved this country and instilled in me that I should be proud to be an American and work to make this country better. Some may think that what I do is un-American, defending undocumented criminals, but I think I make it a better place. Arizona is not a welcoming place to many people.” Salvatierra is especially sensitive to the plight of children who are caught in the middle of immigration cases. “People often forget that there are U.S. citizen children behind these undocumented individuals,” she said. “One thing I do not want is for them to grow up hiding in the shadows like they are undocumented and living in a hostile country. Then they will not love this country the way they should.” “We are a firm of people who are committed to what we do,” Salvatierra said. “We love it. Many folks I know don’t love what they do. I get to do what I love and with people I absolutely love. The people who work here are like my second family. We get along well, and they are all equally committed to helping the people we represent. “My dad was a janitor. He always said that whatever you do, you should do it well and love it no matter what it is,” she continued. “My dad was an immigrant who was welcomed into this country and became a lawful permanent resident in the ‘70s. He lived in San Francisco for the rest of his life and never went back to his home country. He passed away last August from cancer. Even though we didn’t agree on much, he absolutely loved what I did, and he always expected the very best of me. He was very proud. He came to this country with absolutely nothing, and he gave me everything I could possibly need to succeed in life. “My parents loved this country,” she continued. “Diversity was a cornerstone of my upbringing, and it is part of what makes this country great.”
Published by Target Market Media . View All Articles.