Lorena Jiron was raised in Miami by a single mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua in 1974. After her mother passed away in 2009 following a diagnosis of cervical cancer, Jiron was responsible for settling her affairs, no simple task for a grieving daughter.
However, this experience opened her eyes to what she currently sees — that Latino populations in places like New York City lack critical legal resources, especially when it comes to the immigration status of an individual. Even individuals who hold a green card and have some sort of legal status don’t know all of their rights, what they can do with those rights, or even if they can turn to the police for help, she says.
She has observed this vulnerability firsthand through legal internships. She has worked in the immigration unit of New York Legal Assistance Group, where she assisted migrants in securing or continuing lawful status in the U.S.; the immigration and family law unit of Legal Services NYC in the Bronx, where she aided West Africans in a similar vein; and at Day One, an organization that works with young people ages 16- 24 who are victims of intimate partner violence. She also interned for the Honorable Jenny Rivera of the New York State Court of Appeals.
Following graduation from Fordham Law School, she would like to continue her work with single mothers who struggle with domestic violence, many of whom are not native English speakers. She is drawn to this population because of the struggles her mother faced while raising her alone; the stigma women in these communities face for being young and pregnant; and how particularly vulnerable they are because they are young. Laws surrounding young people on the brink of adulthood can be particularly confusing.
During the time between finishing her bachelor’s degree and enrolling at Fordham, Lorena decided she wanted to live outside the U.S. While it would be easy to imagine her choosing Latin America, where her parents are from, she decided instead to move to Egypt to broaden her cultural perspective. As she was settling in to life there, teaching English and gaining a grasp of Arabic, another destination called: an opportunity to work as a teacher and curriculum designer at the School of Leadership Afghanistan, a girls-only boarding school in Kabul.
Jiron says she learned more about herself while living in Kabul than during any other stage of her young life. While the limitations of life as a woman in Afghanistan are a prominent topic in the media, it was entirely different to experience life with these women, directly observing the struggles they face as well as their strength and resilience.
Her determination to provide a quality education for young women there came from her mother’s emphasis on education as a means of empowerment. She remembers that her mother would say, “Your job is to get As, and my job is to put you through school.”
In her first year at Fordham Law, Jiron was selected for the school’s nationally recognized Stein Scholars Program. This is an academic and public interest service program for all three years of law school; students complete a specialized curriculum tailored to public interest law that includes an externship, as well as non-academic components that develop and enhance leadership and communication skills.
As a board member of Fordham’s Latin American Law Students Association, Jiron has also joined with MetroLALSA, a coalition of students from the 13 metropolitan New York-area law schools committed to the advancement of Latino students in the legal profession. Every year, MetroLALSA organizes a conference called Pa’lante! (“moving forward” in colloquial Spanish), but Fordham had never hosted it. Jiron wanted to change that. Not only was Jiron’s bid for the conference successful, the organization named her chair of the event, which took place in March 2016.
As Jiron amasses insights and confronts challenges, her perspective — as a student and as a burgeoning lawyer — only widens. Next semester, she will intern at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she will venture into the world of civil rights litigation.
Jiron is one of 25 future lawyers honored in the National Jurist’s 2017 “Law Student of the Year” feature. Find more honorees here.