Advocacy by philanthropy

Omar de la Cruz
Omar de la Cruz. Hometown: Oakland, Calif. Major: Law

Fellowship supports law student’s fight for housing equity in San Francisco

By Laura Pizzo

When Public Advocates—one of the oldest public interest law firms in the nation—offered UC Davis law student Omar de la Cruz ’18 a summer internship on their Metropolitan Equity Team, he felt overjoyed. Then, stress took over. The internship was unpaid in San Francisco, and he wasn’t certain how he would afford to travel to the city.

“It was unfortunate because I knew I would love this opportunity, and I was so happy and enthusiastic when I got it,” he said. “I wanted to accept it right away, but I had to think about funding. Eventually, I decided I would find funding anyway I could, and I accepted the position, but it was an uneasy acceptance.”

Luckily, soon after he accepted de la Cruz received one of 10 Satre Family Summer Public Service Fellowships for UC Davis law students. The fellowship provided him with enough funding for lunches and transportation on BART from his parents’ home in Oakland. This meant he wouldn’t need to take on a second job or completely deplete his savings for the next school year.

“With this fellowship, I don’t have to worry about finding a job that would get in the way of fully committing myself to this internship, which is already fulltime,” he said.

At Public Advocates, de la Cruz will work to push forward housing equity policy, making certain people aren’t pushed out of their homes when big businesses change the character of a neighborhood, or that some neighborhoods aren’t developed while others are neglected. This experience will be extraordinarily valuable as he pursues a career in immigration law—a cause near and dear to his heart because his father and grandparents immigrated to the United States from Mexico.

“A lot of neighborhoods that are neglected oftentimes have high immigrant populations or low-income populations,” he said. “I am passionate about this work because I have an immigrant background in my family; but, on top of that, immigrant populations are one of the groups least likely to know what their rights are, least likely to know that they have certain protections, and least likely to complain about situations because of fear of their status.”

De la Cruz noted that philanthropy helps make careers in public interest law possible, especially for students and recent law school graduates.

“Without philanthropy, there’d be a drastic reduction in the number of people who would be able to pursue careers in public interest and nonprofit law,” he said. “I know a number of first-year students who wouldn’t be able to take their internships without philanthropy. And there’s also people who are graduating and starting as actual attorneys but need to rely on philanthropy for postbar fellowships in similar types of work. Without philanthropy, that work wouldn’t get done.”