When Mayra Salinas-Menjivar sees children at the UNLV Immigration Clinic, she has a deep understanding of their plight. Salinas-Menjivar emigrated from El Salvador when she was 7 years old, and last May earned her juris doctor from the UNLV Boyd School of Law. While in law school, she was involved in the immigration clinic as a student worker, and now she is a full-time fellow.
“When I came to UNLV and started working in the clinic, it just took over,” says Salinas-Menjivar.
“Part of it is that I am an immigrant so I have a different perspective. Also, it’s such a complicated area of law, and if you are a person with no legal training, and don’t speak English as your first language, it’s so hard to navigate that system.
“So it is rewarding to help people do that.”
It is rewarding, too, for the donors who enabled the clinic’s attorneys to continue taking cases despite a recent loss of federal funding for the AmeriCorps initiative that provided lawyers for unaccompanied immigrant children.
Las Vegas attorney Ed Bernstein and his law firm donated $250,000 last spring to fund the Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Immigration Clinic Children’s Rights Program, a move he says was inspired partly because his wife, Claudia, is an immigrant. He also is drawn to efforts that help children — particularly unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
“My wife is Peruvian; she came here 25 year ago. So immigration issues are near and dear to my heart, as is anything having to do with civil liberties and law-related issues. It was a natural combination for me since it involved children.”
Bernstein’s generosity will keep the Children’s Rights Program operating for five more years.
Salinas-Menjivar works alongside attorneys Michael Kagan and Laura Berrera to represent the underrepresented in the legal system. Often, their clients are children fleeing violence in other nations.
The clinic displays framed handprints of the children they’ve worked with in their office — many of whom were unaccompanied by adults as they immigrated.
“The kids are definitely hard cases — it can be extremely emotional work,” Salinas-Menjivar says. “But you stay focused on how important it is. And you stay grateful that donors like Bernstein see how important it is, too.”
Learn more about UNLV Foundation giving programs.