Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST)
Year Graduated: 2012
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley
Major: Political Science
Erika Gonzalez, '12, entered McGeorge School of Law debating whether to practice public defense or sports law. When she finished, she had chosen to devote her career to public interest law, a commitment the school recognized by awarding her for outstanding student service at graduation.
"I knew when I won that award, I had made a decision to devote myself to public interest," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez works at Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking in Los Angeles, a direct services agency that provides legal and social services that also pushes for policy changes for human-trafficking survivors. She started as a foreign national staff attorney working with immigrants and also coordinating the firm's pro bono work. She recently was promoted to training and technical assistance attorney.
The role is newly created, funded by a $500,000 two-year federal grant. It will allow her to develop curriculum, webinars and e-learning courses to teach attorneys nationwide how to help human trafficking victims. The goal is to help regions that lack attorneys with expertise in this field to create the ability to serve clients pro bono.
Gonzalez describes trafficking as widespread, modern-day slavery, forcing someone into labor or commercial sex. Human trafficking is the "fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century - a $150 billion dollar industry," according to CAST's website, with an estimated 20 million to 30 million people enslaved at any time.
Her clients, she says, are inspiring. And so is the field. "It's exciting to be doing cutting-edge law," she says. "We don't have a lot of resources. We don't have a lot of case law. There isn't a lot of precedent. A lot of it is figuring it out as you go. That's really fun."
Gonzalez credits the mentorship she received at McGeorge for inspiring her to pursue public interest law.
Through her four-year membership with the Latino/a Law Students' Association and also being its president, she worked closely with professors, including Raquel Aldana, who mentored her. Aldana encouraged Gonzalez to study abroad at McGeorge's Spanish-immersion Guatemala program. When Gonzalez returned, Aldana nudged her to take her immigration law class and intern at an organization where she could practice Spanish.
"Her mentorship makes you rethink how you can influence the legal profession," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez interned at Opening Doors Inc., a Sacramento non-profit that provides social and legal services to underserved communities, including human trafficking survivors. Later, she became program manager of immigration legal services, her first public interest job. She joined CAST because of its recognized expertise in anti-human trafficking law, work she finds empowering.
"It's exciting to be working with the leaders in this field," she says.
(photo credit: Lamogollon Photography)