As Miami Scholar Candelario Saldana looked out over the packed ballroom of elegant attendees at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., last month, he knew there were others like him but not nearly as lucky.
The third-year law student was a 2018 summer associate at a big law firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, and accepted an offer from its Capital Markets group in Charlotte, North Carolina, to begin there upon his May 2019 graduation. And on this night, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity had singled him out as a CLEO Edge honoree at their 50th-anniversary gala. But that isn’t what set him apart from most young law students.
Candelario Saldana, 3L
Saldana is a Dreamer. More accurately, he fell under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status; a fact that he was unaware of until middle school. The Mexican native's mother brought her son to the United States when he was two years old to receive a better education. She believed in the American Dream. It wasn't until Saldana told his mother he wanted to become a lawyer so he could lift her out of poverty and away from her abusive husband that he learned the truth.
"I had no clue that I was different than my peers," Saldana told the audience, "besides the fact that I was gay. I had dreams just like they did, and even though my mother told me that I should not let anyone discourage me, it felt like my goals were unachievable."
Saldana graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in political science and gender studies, but it would be six more years until he could get his status adjusted to permanent resident and apply to law school. He filled the time managing Mexican restaurants in Utah, and he attended the CLEO Pre-Law Summer Institute.
"The Institute not only showed me how to brief cases and prepare outlines for classes, but it taught me substantive material that I later used during my first year of law school," he said. "My experience at the institute allowed me to be in the top 20 percent of my class after my first year of law school, and today I am in the top 10 percent."
Saldana spent his rising 2L summer in New York at The Legal Aid Society as a legal intern in the Youth Project with the Immigration Unit. There, he researched immigration law issues impacting unaccompanied immigrant children, translated documents for asylum claims and prepared children for asylum interviews.
Helping other youth navigate a complex immigration system allowed Saldana to achieve one of his goals—using his legal education to help other immigrants. At Miami Law, Saldana took an immigration law course as his elective during his first year and, along with his own immigration experiences, it allowed him to quickly understand his assignments at The Legal Aid Society.
As a second-year student, Saldana was a member of the Immigration Clinic and served on the Race and Social Justice Law Review, International Moot Court, and as social chair of OUTLaw. He was runner-up for the Michael Greenberg Writing Competition for his case note on the effects that the Trump Administration's decision to end DACA will have on LGBTQ+ Dreamers. As a third-year, he is president of OUTLaw and a fellow at the Immigration Clinic.
Saldana hopes to continue helping other LGBTQ+ identified individuals with legal immigration needs through Cadwalader’s pro bono efforts, specifically the firm’s immigration clinic. Moving to Charlotte will also allow him and his partner, Jonathan Barrio, to help in the city’s and state’s LGBTQ+ rights movement.
“Although our country has made huge progress in advancing LGBTQ+ rights, full equality will take time to achieve and some places need more help than others,” says Saldana.