URBANA – Daniella Di Stefano will brave all conditions for the causes in which she believes.
After the Supreme Court agreed to consider lawsuits against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which prevents deportations of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, Di Stefano helped raise more than $ 1,000 to help pay for DACA claims and hosted a campus rally in fall 2019 that over 100 people attended.
Even in the freezing cold.
âIt snowed for the first time in the school year that day, and then it didn’t snow until December,â Di Stefano said with a laugh. “A very strange way for the universe to react to our protest and our rallies.”
Two years later, the court challenges failed and Di Stefano is now a senior who has joined two immigration rights organizations on the University of Illinois campus.
For her work at the New American Welcome Center, helping local clients navigate the legal work of the immigration process, the senior will today receive the Student Leadership Award from the CU Immigration Forum.
The honor surprised Di Stefano; she nominated a few students for this award, never having thought it could end with her. Impostor syndrome “will never go away,” she said.
But the honor came as no surprise to his supervisors at NAWC, who struggle to find the words to sum up how important Di Stefano was to their organization.
âShe has been a huge asset and played a huge role, honestly I am touched that she leaves us when she graduates in May,â said ZoÃ« Foote, Director of Legal Services and Program at NAWC immigration assistance.
When Foote was on maternity leave from July to October last year, Di Stefano and another staff member kept legal services running, even updating a few practices along the way, she said. .
Di Stefano worked on a secure asylum last July and she led the construction of legal cases for immigrants victims of serious crimes to obtain status through U visas.
Even when clients have endured significant mental anguish and trauma, Foote said Di Stefano “never fails to impress” with his poise and empathy.
âIt’s a relatively small example of how she consistently rises to the occasion,â Foote said. “She puts our customers first, she is incredibly smart, brilliant and responsive on every level you need.”
Di Stefano started as an intern at the NAWC in the summer of 2019, doing a lot of office work to ease the immigration process. Scheduling clients, filling out forms, translating documents from English to Spanish and vice versa, as well as conducting mock interviews for citizenship tests.
âImmigration takes so long, you will often start the process with someone, and it will take them years to see the result,â she said.
Even though it’s just a few forms to get a visa or an immigration process, Di Stefano relishes the relief his clients show when they learn they have legal options.
âMaybe we won’t see the end in the next two years, maybe in the next 10 years, but there is an end in sight, and it’s something I look forward to,â he said. said Di Stefano.
In addition to her legal work at the NAWC, she kept a calendar filled with implications.
She is the Executive Vice President of the Illinois Coalition Assisting Undocumented Students Education (I-CAUSE) and is working on psychology research at the Life Experiences Lab while completing her honors thesis. Di Stefano is a former I-Connect Campus Diversity Workshop Facilitator and a former member of the Filipino Students Association.
âI’m really someone who has to make an effort not to overwork because I really love what I do,â she said.
Some of her life balancers: She reads a lot, especially fiction, and finds solace in the Marvel movies. (Di Stefano recommends the recent opus “Shang Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings.”)
Di Stefano came of age in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, in a house of South American immigrants. A mother and uncle from Peru, a Colombian father, an aunt from Brazil, a family from Honduras.
âI grew up mixing Spanish words and Portuguese words,â she said, and old habits are hard to break.
What exposed Di Stefano to even more cultural contexts was his school, the Hinsdale Adventist Academy, which was almost entirely made up of people of color, a single pocket in a predominantly white area.
Among the careers she envisions, outside of legal work: a doctor, even an undertaker.
âI want the people I work with to feel like they are being seen, that was my idea,â she said.
After two years of dealing with immigrant status cases, a law school or public interest path seems possible, perhaps even a post as a professor of immigration law down the line.
âThe legal realm is seen as such a cold and rigid place where emotions aren’t really involved until you get to the nonprofit realm, and suddenly that value and virtue of being there for others. focus on everything, âshe said.
When she receives the award on Saturday, she will think of her mother, Rosa Wollemberg, for “pushing me to be who I want to be, no matter what obstacles in our path”, and for working “non-stop” to put her daughter in high school and college.
And she’ll think of the folks in the NAWC who tried their luck with herself younger and saw her pay off.
âThis is a physical representation of my three years at NAWC, and the representation of all the people who have supported me during that time, who hired someone new at a college to be. legal intern and legal assistant when they had done so. many other people who could have been chosen, âshe said.