It’s great to help one person at a time, that definitely is needed, but we want to see changes that affect how government conducts itself, how people treat immigrants. We have to look not only at legal issues that immigrants face but the political and public sentiment against them,” Contreras Edin states.
Contreras Edin is the executive director of Centro Legal, a nonprofit legal agency that has been providing legal services to the Latino community in Minnesota for over twenty-five years.
Immigration is a current hot-button issue. Of all the cases this agency works with, 80 percent of them have to do with immigration. Taking action in this area, facing a world of people who have little value for Latinos and immigration in general, and getting hate calls is not an easy job, but since the day she took over as executive director of Centro Legal in October 2005, Contreras Edin knew that she belonged there. Her passion for her job is what gives her the strength to keep fighting for Latino immigrants. Where does this passion come from?
“I have this flame of hope that does not go out. I believe I can make the world a better place, I believe it, I believe it, I believe it, and I’m going to keep pushing,” she says.
Contreras Edin and the staff at Centro Legal have embarked on a new project that will affect immigration litigation not only in Minnesota but across the country. That is why she filed a lawsuit against the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency, over the residential raids that occurred in Willmar, Minnesota. To do this, she is working in partnership with other law firms in town like Gray Plant Mooty—Centro Legal is not working alone.
Before Contreras Edin ever became a lawyer, she worked with immigrants in rural Minnesota. She was in a coffee shop in a small town, and a local farmer looked at her as she walked in, contorted his face in disgust, and said, “Something smells here now.” He got up and walked out and made it known that he wasn’t pleased to see her walk into the shop. That day, she decided she would start giving people more information on their rights against racism and discrimination.
Contreras Edin shared a story of how one local judge in the same small town told her, “You can’t tell people what their rights are, you are not a lawyer.” She responded confidently, saying, “Well, then, I’ll become one.”
And she did. She applied for a Bush Leadership Fellowship. Her application stated, “If you give me this award, I will go to law school and become a nonprofit lawyer that manages an agency that provides legal services to immigrants.” She had no idea that Centro Legal would ever happen. What’s really powerful is that she was sworn in as a lawyer along with the son of the same local judge who had told her that she couldn’t tell people what their rights were.
Now, Contreras Edin is officially a lawyer, recognized as one of the top up-and-coming lawyers in Minnesota, and she feels a strong sense of resolve to do her job and fulfill her dreams of providing services and changing policy for immigrants in this country.
“I need to change not only the way the law is treating these people, but the way we view each other. . . . I really believe that some day we are going to apologize to the immigrants—Mexican immigrants specially—for the harm that was caused to them.”