December 07, 2018

Lewis & Clark Law Student Diego Gutiérrez Celebrates U.S. Citizenship After 25 Years

Fellow students, professors and mentors celebrated 1L law student Diego Gutiérrez in a citizenship ceremony with alum Senior U.S. District Judge Anna Brown ’80.

Since he was seven years old, first-year law student and dreamer Diego Gutiérrez has been fighting for U.S. citizenship. On November 26, Lewis & Clark Law School had the privilege of celebrating his newfound citizen status, honoring his courage throughout his arduous journey.

In a special ceremony at the Law School, alumnus and Senior U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown ’80 administered the Oath of Allegiance to Diego Gutiérrez in front of his first year classmates, professors and mentors.  (He had been formally inducted in a Los Angeles citizenship ceremony with hundreds of fellow immigrants a month earlier.)

“Today we celebrate Diego’s perseverance,” said Dean Jennifer Johnson. “He had a vision to earn a law degree and here he is, in spite of – or maybe because of – the difficulties he encountered in his life.”

Diego Gutiérrez’ attraction to the law and the political process emerged out of passion and necessity. “My life journey has been directly influenced by the law.  It was a natural progression for me to continue that pathway and pursue a law degree.”

“Our family came here from Mexico when I was seven years old and the youngest of six children,” explained Gutiérrez. “My dad owned an advertising agency in Guadalajara, but during the financial troubles in the 1980s in Mexico, he had to declare bankruptcy. He received death threats when he could not pay his debtors and that was what prompted our family to move.”

As an undocumented student, Gutiérrez had no access to financial aid. He was forced to rescind all university offers after high school and work full-time while attending his local community college. He worked hard and succeeded in staying active in his community and graduated from California State University Fullerton, cum laude with a degree in political science.

Temporary immigration relief for Gutiérrez came in June 2012 with President Obama’s signing of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. This allowed him to obtain lawful work authorization. In December 2012, he applied and was accepted to Lewis & Clark Law School as a member of the class of 2016.

Unfortunately, his immigration status continued to bar him from obtaining any federal loans, so Gutiérrez had to decline the offer. When Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down in June 2013, it opened the door for Gutiérrez’s husband to adjust his immigration status. On September 9, 2014, Gutiérrez became a legal permanent resident and three years later was able to apply for naturalization.

“If DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was not overruled, I would not be at the Law School today because I would have never been able to obtain a green card under DACA.”

Gutiérrez applied for citizenship in October 2017 and expected a response between February and April 2018, before the start of law school in August 2018.

“I did not receive confirmation for my naturalization interview and ceremony until October this year,” Gutiérrez said. “ I am so grateful to everyone here at the law school for encouraging me during this very stressful time, and allowing me to start with my 1L class in August. I am particularly grateful to J.B. Kim, and the Academic Excellence Program.”