Valeria Vera '25 Advocated for Immigrants at SF Public Defender's Office

Valeria Vera did extensive legal research, writing, and advocacy work in her summer internship with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

UC Law SF student Valeria Vera ’25 helped represent immigrants facing deportation and those held in detention centers, in her summer internship with the Immigration Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Vera, who grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, was awarded an Equal Justice America Fellowship that provided funding for her summer internship. She talks more about her work.

Q: What did you do in your internship?

A: In my work with the SF Public Defender’s Office’s Immigration Unit, I assisted three supervising attorneys in drafting legal briefs, motions and declarations. I researched complex legal issues and prepared legal memorandums for matters before an administrative appellate agency and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. I also observed an immigration trial and a habeas hearing.

This work stretches across multiple fields of law. The two most challenging cases I worked on involved California criminal law, international criminal law, and administrative law. I helped draft a section about an appellate agency’s summary disposition procedure (meaning the agency affirmed the lower court’s decision without a written opinion or explanation), which I believe departs from the United States’ treaty obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Beyond direct client work, I also advocated for policies that promote immigrant justice and government accountability. I participated in consultations with unrepresented detained individuals, meetings with stakeholders and government agencies, and strategy and working group calls with nonprofits, fellow defenders, and other advocates. The office also is active in the streets. Interns and staff participated in peaceful sit-ins on the San Francisco Hall of Justice steps to demand an end to trial delays, and for the right to a speedy trial. We also attended a hearing at City Hall, where we pressed San Francisco supervisors to allocate more funding for public defenders.

Q: Why is this work important?

A: Everyone has rights and deserves a defense, but unlike in in criminal court, non-citizens in immigration detention have no right to court-appointed counsel. The Immigration Unit is one of three units within public defenders’ offices in the United States providing holistic removal defense representation—including in federal court and in criminal cases regarding immigration consequences.

Q: What did you gain from this experience?

A: It is a truly unique experience to do public-interest work, especially while working for the government. My goals have always been to represent marginalized individuals, and to use the law for accountability and for the good fight. This experience solidified my interest in pursuing public interest and government work. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenging, complex, and collaborative nature of the work and the community at the public defenders.

The experience was also invigorating because of the great culture at the unit. The attorneys and staff are kind, intelligent, hardworking, and such caring, humble, and passionate people. They are great mentors and emulate what holistic representation looks like. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from and work alongside these brilliant attorneys and advocates.

Q: Share more about your background.

A: I was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and attended the University of San Francisco (USF) for both undergrad and graduate school. I majored in international studies with a concentration in global politics and a minor in Latin American studies. While there, I participated in global immersions in Peru, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, and Mexico. I learned directly from nonprofits, aid agencies, and on-the-ground individuals about holistic advocacy, restorative justice, humanitarian aid, and social businesses. In Cambodia, I observed the proceedings of a United Nations Khmer Rouge Trial, which sparked my interest in criminal defense and international criminal law.