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Law grad to specialize in 'social change'

STANFORD -- Every day, men - mostly of Hispanic background, and many of them in this country illegally - congregate on street corners from San Jose to the Mission District of San Francisco, and elsewhere in California.

They are day laborers, looking for work - honest, hard work. They are ripe for exploitation by employers, and for Immigration and Naturalization Service raids. And Jose Sanchez, a June graduate of Stanford Law School, believes many simply don't understand that they have basic civil rights.

Armed with a degree (he is scheduled to take the state bar exam in July), Sanchez plans to continue to work as a public service lawyer specializing in immigration law and employment discrimination issues. In his three years at Stanford, Sanchez has worked nonstop in that area, as well as putting in time at a conventional law firm to help defray the cost of his education.

"I wanted to work so that I didn't graduate with a huge financial obligation," Sanchez said. "If I did go on to work at a firm, I didn't want it to be because of my financial situation."

Of his firm experience, Sanchez said, "It was different culturally; I must say I enjoyed the work."

Likewise his academic experience, he said.

"Stanford has very good work-study programs," he said, such as the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, with which Sanchez worked closely during his time at Stanford.

Sanchez feels ethnic and racial representation should be broadened at the corporate law level, but his initial work as a lawyer will be on the streets, where he feels he and others like him are needed.

Day laborers and other hard-to-categorize workers are difficult to reach in many cases; it requires bilingualism, energy, sensitivity and creativity.

"A lot of them simply don't know their rights as workers," Sanchez said. "They're getting less than minimum wage, have to work in all kinds of bad conditions, and often the employers are using them."

Two approaches

Sanchez hopes to work on two fronts after graduation. He'll be part of a major San Jose project on the problems day laborers face, helping them understand their rights and defending them if they are arrested without probable cause.

He calls the situation the "criminalization of legitimate work" by the federal government; the negative feelings many hold toward day laborers is exacerbated by the recession and racism, he said. It figures to become a very active area legally when the INS begins implementing the next phase of the new immigration laws, cracking down on employers who cannot provide citizenship or legal residency documentation for all workers.

"There's going to be a lot of work to be done in this area very soon," he said.

Sanchez also will work, probably in San Francisco, with high school students in an enterprising attempt to get civil rights messages to the students' parents.

"I want to get through to workers, such as domestics, that are hard to reach," he said. "I think I can reach them through their children, who speak English and are in the high schools."

Role models

Sanchez, a Southern California native and eldest child of immigrant parents, earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard. He said he came to Stanford for legal schooling for multiple reasons: its manageable size, strong reputation as a public service- oriented university and something he had never witnessed during any stage of his education: teachers of his ethnic background.

"I never had a Latino professor, even in high school," Sanchez said. "People may not realize just how important that is to minorities. Their importance continues long after childhood."

At Stanford, Sanchez found mentors that included Gerald Lopez and Miguel Mendez, and studied under an immigration law specialist, Bill Hing.

"Gerry and Miguel have helped me considerably, both personally and professionally," Sanchez said. "And Bill's been great - I took three courses from him."

The number of minorities and women in visible staff positions also did not go unnoticed by Sanchez.

"That's really part of why you choose a school," he said.

Still, the situation at Stanford is far from perfect, he noted.

"A lot of students are unhappy with the way the Law School brings in (minority) visiting professors and they never get offered tenure," Sanchez said.

Also, some students would summarily blame a confusing lecture by a minority professor on their perception that "he's only here because he's black." A white professor in the same situation "didn't get the same reaction," Sanchez said.

Sanchez hopes to return to a university someday to teach law. He freely admits that his interests are in teaching and that his idea of legal research is, at present, putting together "how-to" manuals and fliers for distribution to the people who need his help.

He also wants to succeed as a lawyer, and won't feel ashamed if he happens to be a well-paid lawyer.

"Latino people need wealthy people in their community," he said. "People have to understand their responsibility to change what they can. Even in the corporate area, it's good to have more blacks, more Latinos in there. It needs to be done."

Getting such people on the "right side of the table" can give them a stronger voice on issues that affect their communities, Sanchez said.



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