Los Angeles, CA – MALDEF is pleased to announce the recipients in its 2017-2018 Law School Scholarship Program.

Since MALDEF’s founding, the civil rights organization has awarded scholarships to law students who will further MALDEF’s mission of advancing the civil rights of the Latino community in the United States.

“The caliber of our scholarship recipients very convincingly demonstrates that lawyers serving the Latino community will continue to make decisive contributions to the protection of civil rights and to the betterment of our nation,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “As MALDEF celebrates its 50th anniversary, I know that the next 50 years is in great hands – including those of our latest cohort of law school scholarship recipients, who will achieve enduring progress for American law and for our nation’s people.”

Each year, MALDEF asks a national Law School Scholarship Committee of leading attorneys to help select our scholarship recipients.

“It is an honor to recognize the exceptional talent of this group of students,” said Jose Sanchez, MALDEF board member, partner at Sidley Austin LLP, and chair of this year’s committee. “MALDEF’s Law School Scholarship Program takes pride in supporting this new generation of legal advocates and leaders. Our community needs them more than ever. We thank the major funders of this program and the members of MALDEF’s Law School Scholarship Committee for their commitment to these scholars and to the future of our legal profession.”

MALDEF’s Law School Scholarship Program is open to all students enrolled at an accredited United States law school.

MALDEF’s Law School Scholarship Committee assesses applicants based on four main factors: 1) personal background and financial need; 2) academic and extracurricular achievement; 3) demonstrated commitment to serving the Latino community, shown through academic, extracurricular, or professional record of service; and 4) future plans to advance the rights of Latinos. Applications for the 2018-2019 MALDEF Law School Scholarship Program, due by Jan. 31, 2019, are available for download here and at our website, www.maldef.org.

MALDEF thanks Walmart, and the Law School Scholarship Committee for their generous support of our Law School Scholarship Program. Donations may be made to MALDEF’s Law School Scholarship Program here.

MALDEF’s 2017-2018 Law School Scholarship Recipients:

Dianisbeth Acquie
Harvard Law School

Dianisbeth Acquie is the proud daughter of Panamanian immigrants who taught her how to luchar. She graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and is now a second-year law student at Harvard Law School, where she is a student attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and serves on the executive board of La Alianza. Dianisbeth was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and hopes to return home after graduation to serve and empower her community.

Domonique Alcaraz
Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Domonique is a proud Latina who was born and raised by her Mexican immigrant family in the City Terrace community of Los Angeles. Her commitment to civil rights stems from the unequal access to opportunity and unequal treatment she and her low-income community experienced. Through community service, she’s worked to improve access to education, the political process, and free legal services in Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, and California. In law school, Domonique represented vulnerable populations while clerking at MALDEF and Loyola’s Juvenile Justice Clinic. Domonique is continuing her relentless fight for equality at the California Department of Justice.

Jonhatan Aragon
University of California, Irvine School of Law

Jonhatan Aragon is the son of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants. Raised in Inglewood, California, he received his B.A. in American Studies from Yale College, where he worked at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization. Prior to attending UCI Law, Jonhatan worked as an intern investigator at the D.C. Public Defender Service and a paralegal at the Federal Defenders of New York. He also served as MALDEF’s board liaison. Jonhatan is an active member of OutLaw and participates in several pro bono projects that provide legal services to immigrants. This past summer, he externed for Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Upon graduation, he looks forward to assisting the Latinx community.

Leticia Arevalo
University of Idaho College of Law

Leticia Arevalo is the daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers from California’s San Joaquin Valley. While working in the fields during her summer breaks, she was exposed to the injustice and discrimination experienced by undocumented farmworkers and decided to serve the community she had grown up in. Passionate about education, Leticia graduated from Fresno State and went on to University of Idaho College of Law. After graduation, Leticia will serve as an immigration attorney in Fresno, California.

Martha Cardenas
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Martha Cardenas immigrated to the U.S. at a young age with her mother and experienced first-hand the discrimination and injustices perpetuated against immigrants. Martha graduated from UC Berkeley in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric and Ethnic Studies, and a minor in Education. Passionate about immigrants’ rights and being an advocate for the Latinx community, Martha is pursuing her law degree at UC Berkeley School of Law. She has worked with the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC) helping asylum-seekers and she is currently co-leading the California Asylum Representation Clinic. Martha hopes to continue her work with the Latinx and immigrant community after graduating from law school.

Nelly Chávez
University of California, Davis School of Law 

Nelly Chávez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who settled in California’s Central Valley. Prior to law school, Nelly was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Spain. After returning to the United States, Nelly worked in the court system. This experience helped her understand the severity of the justice gap for the Latino community in the Central Valley. During law school, Nelly realized that she could use her legal education to make life better for working-class immigrants like her parents by advocating for their rights at work. Nelly hopes to dedicate her legal career to advancing the rights of workers.

Wendy M. Hernandez
University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Wendy M. Hernandez is the eldest of three from a single-parent Honduran household and is a proud Los Angeles native. She earned her bachelor’s degree in American Studies (with departmental awards) from the University of California, Berkeley, where she published two undergraduate research studies, and was awarded the Chancellor’s Mather Good Citizen Award for Public Service upon graduating. Prior to law school, she advocated tirelessly for juvenile justice reform, education equity, and economic justice at the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles County Superior Court, and Los Angeles County’s premier Juvenile Diversion agency, Centinela Youth Services, Inc.

Juan José Martínez-Hill
New York University School of Law

Juan Martinez-Hill is the proud son of a Mexican immigrant father and U.S. citizen mother. He graduated from Brown University, where he helped establish a scholarship fund for undocumented youth, volunteered as a prison law librarian, and received the Arthur Liman Fellowship in Public Interest Law. After graduation, he worked with the United Farm Workers Foundation in California’s Central Valley before moving to New York. He is currently a J.D. candidate and Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar at New York University School of Law, where he is pursuing a career in civil rights impact litigation in service to his Latinx community.

Fabiola Olvera Benitez
Northeastern University School of Law

Fabiola Olvera Benitez was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was 3 years old. As a formerly undocumented immigrant and a member of a mixed-status immigrant family, Fabiola’s passion stems from having first-hand experience with the immigration system. Fabiola has been a legal intern at the Rhode Island Center for Justice, Cameron Law Offices, and The Bronx Defenders, Immigration Practice. After law school, Fabiola plans to serve and advocate for the immigrant community as a public interest immigration attorney.

Maria I. Palomares
Santa Clara University School of Law

Maria is the youngest daughter of Mexican immigrants. She was 3 years old when her family settled on a dairy farm in California’s Central Valley. While in college, Maria began working in public service at the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. In law school, she has advocated for vulnerable populations including elders, crime victims, and immigrants, competed in Honors Moot Court, and serves as a student leader on several law student organizations. Upon graduation, Maria seeks to continue advocating for clients as a litigator.

Mario Noe Paredes
Boston University School of Law

Mario was born and raised by his Guatemalan immigrant family in Wheatley Heights, New York. Before attending law school, Mario spent several years working with various community-based organizations, schools, and nonprofits. Mario was motivated to attend law school to learn how to most effectively combine the practice of law with community organizing. While at BU, he worked with Kids in Need of Defense and supported criminal [in]justice reform at the Massachusetts State House. He currently works for Massachusetts Law Reform Institute as part of its Immigrants Protection Project and sits on the board of the local immigrants’ rights non-profit Centro Presente.

Luis Vasquez
University of California, Los Angeles School of Law

Luis Vasquez is the son of Mexican immigrants and is openly gay. Interested in the relationship between queer people of color and the law, Luis specializes in Critical Race Studies at UCLA School of Law. While studying sociology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, he worked for six years as a paralegal. At UCLA Law, he is president of the Student Bar Association and has worked for the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, in-house at Anthem, Inc., and for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In 2017, Luis worked toward the passage of SB 239, which reformed and modernized California’s HIV-specific criminal statutes.