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Meet the Inaugural Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellows

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

We are excited to introduce the inaugural fellows, Griselda Estrada Gonzalez and Athena Buell Becerra. Griselda and Athena were selected from a pool of 115 talented and diverse law students who applied from across the country. They will spend 10 weeks this summer immersed in removal defense at Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD) and Northwest Immigrants Rights Project (NWIRP), respectively, where they will work with Valerie's former colleagues at organizations where she once represented clients with her unique blend of intelligence, passion, creativity, and kindness.

Learn more about Griselda and Athena below:

Griselda Estrada Gonzalez is a first-generation Mexican immigrant and was undocumented for the first 29 years of her life. She has experienced many of the challenges that come with being undocumented in the United States, including deportation of family members and persistent anxiety. These experiences fuel her passion to become a zealous immigration advocate. Griselda is now a 3rd year law student attending Lincoln Law School of Sacramento. She also works as an Accredited Representative for California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) and through her work there she met Valerie. While working together through the San Francisco Attorney of the Day Program, Griselda was in awe of Valerie’s commitment to immigrants’ rights, and has looked to her as a role model and inspiration in her own work. She remembers thinking “I want to be just like her.” Griselda is honored to have been selected for the Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellowship to continue fighting on behalf of the community in Valerie’s honor and memory.

Athena Buell Becerra is currently studying at UC Berkeley Law School. Athena has extensive experience working with non-profit organizations in the provision of legal and other services to immigrant communities in California and Pennsylvania. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal in a legal-social work collaboration funded by the Department of Justice that provided free legal, mental health, and victim support services to Latinx immigrants who experienced sexual harassment or violence in the workplace. This work included training first responders and other service providers on offering culturally and linguistically competent services to immigrant survivors. Athena also prepared victim-based immigration applications for survivors of crime, working especially with survivors of labor trafficking. Athena is honored to receive this prestigious award in Valerie’s memory, especially knowing that Valerie was a fierce advocate for immigrant families like Athena’s. She is excited and grateful for this opportunity to continue Valerie’s legacy while also expanding her own knowledge as an immigrant rights advocate into the area of deportation defense.

Thanks to the generous donations in Valerie's honor, Griselda and Athena -- and future fellows -- will have the financial support needed to make a nonprofit summer internship accessible.

We are also happy to share the following excerpt from the April 2022 Law Journal of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association (AILA), which includes a tribute to Valerie:

Valerie lives on in our hearts and thoughts – and in the work of the legal community she fostered. Her legacy will now include Griselda, Athena, and future Fellows who will carry on her fight for justice for the most marginalized immigrants.

Make your donation to the Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellowship below:

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