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Harper graduate’s immigration story inspires immigration law career: Harper College

When Maria Vargas earned her law degree in Mexico, she did not expect that she would find a job at Hoffman Estates after 30 years with Metcalf & Associates, a firm that practices immigration law.
The road from there to here wasn’t always straight, but he brought Maria, of Schaumburg, through the Paralegal Studies Program at Harper College.

The Harper program is the oldest American Bar Association-accredited paralegal studies program in the Chicagoland area, said Carol Carlson-Nofsinger, Harper’s Paralegal Studies Coordinator. It is approved by the American Bar Association, which tells employers that a Harper alumni has attended a high-quality training program.

In fact, the program attracts many students like Maria, who have law degrees from other countries, said Carlson-Nofsinger.

These students, she said, “want to work in law, but don’t necessarily want to start over in the university environment, and get a law degree.” The Harper program is “a way to reconnect without having to go through the entire educational process again.”

In addition, it gives students a sense of familiarity.

“There is a sense of relief,” said Carlson Nofsinger. “You feel like this is something you know, [that] you can do.”

Maria came to the United States after working for a year in Mexico, but she didn’t have the emotional and financial support systems in place to succeed, she said. Between the time she started at the Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero in Chilpancingo, the capital of the Mexican state of Guerrero, and passed her bar exam in the early 1990s, her parents passed away. In 1996, she moved to Illinois to be with the family.

In August, Maria graduated with Harper Paralegal Studies, a 24-credit hour program ideal for students who previously earned a law degree. Maria said she is proud of achieving all of her A’s and B’s in her classes, and she is proud to work in immigration law.

I recently wrote a paper for this semester’s writing class — she’ll take another class after graduation to improve her writing — about why it’s semi-legal. One reason is her personal experience: She hired an immigration attorney to become a legal resident in the United States and worked with the paralegal to collect documents.

“I said to myself, I can be a paralegal and do this job,” she wrote in the paper. “I am proud of myself because, as a paralegal, I did my paperwork to apply for citizenship. This personal experience was the impetus for becoming a paralegal.”

But it wasn’t always easy.

“You have no idea how many nights I cried,” she said. “I had enough. [I said,]
“I don’t need this,” but I did. I did, and Harper, they are the best.”

Maria noted a moment of uncertainty in her educational journey, in part as a result of the self-awareness of her accent. She spoke to Carlson-Nofsinger about her desire to leave the show.

“She wouldn’t let me,” said Maria. You encouraged me. You have supported me. She said: Don’t be ashamed of your accent. You speak English well. You know another language. Take that as your advantage. Believe me, there will be a place where they need someone with your Spanish skills. please try. Counting.'”

This is what Maria did. She began an internship that led to her current position as a paralegal assistant.
To students like her, who have a law degree from another country and are considering attending Harper’s University, Maria had some simple advice: Do it. enroll, enroll. And fear not – there is plenty of help available at Harper, from teaching to library to practical professors.

“You are not alone,” said Maria. “Harper can offer any kind of help. It is the beauty of this college. It is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

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