By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Karla Islas has persisted, and she learned to very early.
When her family came to America from Mexico 18 years ago, they landed in Texas and took a train to the wrong state, facing long journeys through California. But they didn't give up until they arrived in Arizona.
As a young undocumented immigrant, Islas faced a tough future but persisted until she got Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status at age 15.
Her father, who had limited English skills, was washing his family’s clothes at a laundromat when three men robbed him as he yelled, “No mine!” before being beaten. Islas served as her father’s translator to police, she said.
“That definitely impacted his physical and mental health. And that left a big mark on my life,” said the Grand Canyon University senior. “That should never happen to an individual just because they are different from someone else.”
Islas decided she wanted to help others like her father – and her deported brother. She wanted to go to college and become an immigration attorney. One problem. She didn’t have enough money.
So she earned a scholarship from The Dream.Us, which helps Dreamers with tuition, and GCU picked up the remaining costs, she said.
“I don’t want anyone else to feel the hardships I felt,” Islas said. “Going into a law career, I can have an impact. I can make a difference helping immigrants who can’t afford it or are afraid to come out.”
But the journey is just beginning. After studying toward a degree in Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies, which she expects to receive in April, Islas knew the next big hurdle is getting into law school.
And that means scoring well on the law school entrance exam, called LSAT. She’ll be taking that test in February.
It worries her. The test is difficult. So she looked for ways to ensure success on the test and applied for the Los Abogados Pipeline Fellowship. The Hispanic Bar Association in Arizona offers the fellowship every summer to 10 students to give expert advice on the LSAT and to network with law school officials and working attorneys.
She didn’t get the fellowship and was put on a waiting list.
By now you know Islas didn’t give up. She wondered what she could learn about why she wasn’t picked. So ... she asked.
“I was honestly extremely scared to reach out, but I thought, 'What’s the worst thing that can happen?'” Islas said.
“I thought that even though I wasn’t part of the fellowship, I still wanted to network with them. I wanted to get my foot in the door and make a lasting impression that I am passionate about going into law.”
Her persistence paid off again. She was offered the fellowship and credits something she picked up in class at GCU.
“I might have learned it from Kevin Walling. He is so true to himself. He tells it like it is and leaves a lasting impression,” Islas said of the Chair of Justice Studies, Government and History in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
She might just make a good attorney.
“Persistence is key. Getting noticed in employment and other matters can be a good thing,” Walling said.
The fellowship was held virtually over several weeks of the summer and included consultations with mentors, LSAT preparation and reviewing of resumes and applications.
Islas’ dream is to get into Baylor Law School, though she also will apply to others in Arizona.
“Using the material I learned during the summer, and using what I learned in my classes, hopefully I can make an impression on law school admissions counselors,” she said.
“I am definitely going into immigration law. It’s been my entire life, forever.”
Walling said it’s a great ambition.
“We have a lot of people in legal limbo in the United States, and getting affirmative, clear steps of action, sometimes even when the initial response is negative, can hopefully get things moved in a positive direction,” he said.
Now Islas is sharing what she picked up in her fellowship with other students, especially about the nerve-wracking, timed LSAT.
“Trust yourself. You have to make every second count,” she said. “Every second you spend second-guessing yourself will hurt you.”
But her persistence may be the best advice of all.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.