Alumni Profile: Stephanie Delia and the Pursuit of the American Dream

Alumni Profile: Stephanie Delia and the Pursuit of the American Dream

Alumni Profile: Stephanie Delia and the Pursuit of the American Dream

As the just-concluded presidential election campaign underscored, there are few issues more contentious than that of immigration, and Stephanie Delia (B.A. ’02), a staff attorney with the CUNY Citizenship Now! project, is in the thick of the action.

With offices in all five boroughs, CUNY Citizenship Now! provides free, high quality, and confidential immigration law services to help individuals and families on their path to U.S. citizenship, assessing participants’ eligibility for legal benefits and assisting them in applying when qualified.

Delia, who supervises the City College Immigration Center, noted that the office is making a concerted effort to address the needs of the CUNY population. “We’re prioritizing these students due to the change in administration,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear and concern.” That concern is especially poignant among those who covered by President Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the so-called Dreamers.

DACA applies to those who entered the country before June 15, 2007, and were under age 16 before arriving. Dreamers had to have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, the date the executive action was announced, and have to have been here continuously since. “The most important thing,” said Delia, “is you have to go to school and either graduated from high school, be in high school, or get some kind of other degree.”

CUNY is home to a large population of Dreamers, Delia said — “many of them honors students with great grades” — and CUNY Citizenship Now! is making a push to make sure those students apply for certain benefits before the new administration takes office. “We’ve had a huge response,” she said. “All of the kids I’m working with are currently students, who grew up in America. Most of them came in as children, often brought by their parents through no fault of their own.”

After John Jay, Delia earned her J.D. degree from Thomas M. Cooley School of Law at Western Michigan University. She interned at the Queens District Attorney’s office, then went into corporate law for a few years. “While I was there, there was an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and there was an opportunity for immigrants to come here,” said Delia, who speaks Haitian Creole. “I decided to volunteer with a nonprofit that needed attorneys to help with that. Once I started, I realized it’s basically what I want to do.”

She learned that CUNY Citizenship Now! was looking for someone with her skills, and began working there part-time in 2012. “I like really connecting with people and doing something where you see the difference immediately,” she noted. “My work in corporate law had no impact on anyone’s life. Working in immigration is different; it’s working with real people and having real consequences”

Delia said she identified with immigrants because they’re people who are trying to make the best of their circumstances. “It is literally a person-to-person connection with each and every client,” she observed. “You learn to overcome things and say if these people can accomplish these things under their circumstances, I have no excuse.”

Delia came to John Jay looking to have an impact on her community and effect change. “I went the long route, but here I am years later, doing exactly what I want to do,” she said, “and doing it within the school system that gave me the platform and empowerment to do it. I walked away from John Jay believing that I can actually impact people’s lives if I do the right work, and here I am doing it.”

 Click here for more information on the CUNY Citizenship Now project.