Meet Sebastian Hernandez '21: Center for Social Justice Scholar
Each academic year, Seton Hall Law School School’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) selects Student Scholars who seek careers in public interest. The Scholars are afforded opportunities to work with faculty members in areas of interest and career ambition. .They receive scholarship support for their service from the Association of Corporate Counsel of New Jersey.
Sebastian Hernandez ’21 is a Colombian immigrant. He moved to the United States when he was seven years old. “My first step on American soil was at Newark Airport. That’s where my story in America began. However, my dad found a job in South Carolina, so we settled in Beaufort County,” said Hernandez. Now he is back in Newark, NJ, motivated to become an immigration attorney.
Hernandez graduated from Armstrong State University magna cum laude in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in General Economics. To pay for college,, he started his own company focused on remittance transfers. His thesis, motivated by the kind of services provided by the company, was a panel study observing “The Effects of Remittances on Female Secondary School Enrollment in Developing Countries.” Hernandez recalled, “I wanted to see the impact that immigrants in the US were having on their families back in their home countries. In some countries, the immigrants’ remittance transfers made up over thirty percent of the GDP of the respective country’s economy. People’s immigration raised family incomes back home, and allowed kids, particularly young girls, to continue their education. This is the immigration story that needs to be told.”
Immediately following his college graduation, Hernandez began to volunteer at Lowcountry Legal Volunteers (LLV), a non-profit organization in Bluffton, South Carolina focused on providing access to justice for underrepresented communities. Over the course of nine months, he volunteered 180 hours at LLV. “Everybody at LLV helped me build on the skills that I will need to be a lawyer. I have always been about learning as I help others, and Lowcountry Legal Volunteers allowed me to do that.” During that time, Hernandez also began working as a paralegal at the Law Office of Mark J. Devine, an immigration law firm in Beaufort County, South Carolina. At the firm, Hernandez assisted attorneys in immigration-related matters and served as a translator and interpreter for clients at detention centers, asylum interviews, and intake interviews.
In his first year at Seton Hall Law School, in 2018-19, Hernandez accumulated over three hundred pro bono hours, including his summer work at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. At the ACLU, he primarily worked on legal research and writing for the legal department. He also traveled to the State House in Trenton to support the passage of NJ A-314, the bill restricting the use of isolated confinement in correctional facilities in New Jersey. During the fall of 2019, Hernandez is interning for the Honorable David B. Katz, the presiding judge of the Family Division at the Essex Superior Court.
As a CSJ Scholar, Hernandez will be working on an immigration project focused on directly disseminating information to immigrants in the community. His goal is to create connections between school, churches, and immigrants, and firms and pro-immigrant organizations. “With everything that’s going on today, law students have the opportunity to go out to our community, offer info sessions at local schools or churches, and inform families of their rights and the various services available to them. This kind of outreach is particularly important because there are legal remedies available to allow certain immigrants to obtain lawful status and avoid deportation, but the immigrant community is understandably fearful and may not know about these options. A grass-roots outreach and community education project would create an opportunity for our students and immigrants to learn about immigrants’ rights and the different firms and organizations in our area.”
“Coming to the United States changed my life. This country gave me the opportunity to own a business which has now created fifteen jobs in my town. As an immigrant, I feel a great sense of pride knowing that I can positively impact the local economy. I also feel a great sense of responsibility to represent my community and give back to this country. This is why I volunteer, and, today, as a law student and CSJ Scholar I am in the unique position to help others like me. I am committed to using this opportunity with the CSJ to further the public interest.”