Undocumented and Free

2 min
at 11:43 PM

A Nigerian immigrant, Rosan Agbajoh wasn’t familiar with the complex web of American immigration law that claimed such a powerful influence on her life. So she decided to do something about it.

Despite what some may say, Africa is full of highly educated, motivated, accomplished professionals. I was raised by one of them — a Nigerian lawyer and government official — my mother.

And it’s not just my mother. African immigrants attend college at higher rates than native-born Americans and are more likely to hold higher degrees in math, science, and law.

And yet despite having a lawyer as a mom, I never really saw myself becoming a lawyer. Until I immigrated to America.

I immigrated here at the age 12. My mother wanted to give me the best opportunity to be successful and what better place than America, where dreams come true.

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Like most immigrants, I wasn’t versed in the intricacies of American immigration law. I didn’t have special legal training.

American immigration law is so complicated and complex. It is no wonder so many immigrants feel intimidated and ostracized by this complicated system. In my view, you really do need a law degree to even know where to begin. For me, it was more than intimidation. I felt unsafe.

As a young, undocumented woman of color, I felt unprotected in a country that held so much promise. My undocumented status was my heaviest burden.

Tired of feeling unsafe, I remembered my mom and everything she accomplished in Nigeria. I remembered where I came from, which fueled me to pursue and earn a law degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law. Now I am a lawyer and a new member of the State Bar of California.

Becoming a lawyer has allowed me to reclaim my own personal and professional safety in America. With my law degree, I’ve armed myself with the knowledge and training to fight back, for myself and for others in my community.

This is why it is so important for young immigrants across America to remember where they came from. Remember your country and your family — use your background as inspiration to fuel your success. African immigrants — and all immigrants — are successful every single day. Focus on the many people who look just like you and are making a difference.

To all the young immigrants of color: you too can become a doctor, an engineer — or a lawyer.

With a Perspective, I’m Rosan Agbajoh.

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Rosan Agbajoh is a new attorney practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. A version of her commentary originally appeared in the bulletin of the California Bar Foundation.

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