Catherine Gonzalez '15

An Advocate for Immigrant Rights

Catherine Gonzalez (née Peña ) ‘15 began navigating the immigration system from an early age as an immigrant child. Born in San Jose de las Matas, a small town in the Dominican Republic, Catherine remained there until she was nine. Catherine recalls, “It was all I knew, and once I immigrated I was separated from my mother and from the only family I knew. I found myself in a big, strange world in New York City, with a new and strange language to match. Despite those struggles, immigrating offered me invaluable opportunities. This early exposure to immigration introduced me to the bureaucracies of the American immigration system—from consulates to individual immigration officers. As I pursued higher education, I decided I wanted to become a lawyer because I wanted to help the people of my community. I am proud to say I am now the first and only lawyer in my family.”  

Once she was in college, Catherine pursued internships with lawyers and sought to learn all she could to forge a path for herself in the law. “I gravitated towards immigrant rights issues. I volunteered at an Immigrant Rights Law Clinic in college and worked with a criminal defense attorney who worked as assigned counsel on state and federal cases.” Once she was at Haub Law, Catherine volunteered anywhere she could to gain additional experience with immigration law and in trial advocacy, having several impactful experiences along the way. “One of the most impactful professors I had the privilege of meeting and working with at Pace was Professor Louis Fasulo. Professor Fasulo and The Advocacy Program – its academic curriculum as well as the moot court and mock trial competitions – were integral to helping me hone the skills I now use daily as a public defender. I am eternally grateful to Loretta Musial, Professor Fasulo, and The Advocacy Program at Pace for teaching, guiding, and supporting me. It is in large part thanks to all of them that I wake up every day to do work I love and am passionate about,” noted Catherine.

After she graduated from Haub Law, Catherine began her legal career in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), representing clients against criminal charges. It was there she found herself gravitating towards cases that resonated with her, often those that involved immigration-related issues. Today, Catherine is a Supervising Immigration Attorney & Policy Counsel in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services. “I witnessed how the criminal legal system funnels people into the immigration deportation system, which led me to join BDS’s Padilla Team where I advise clients and attorneys about the immigration consequences of criminal and family court cases and represent non-citizens fighting to remain in the US.”

Recently, Haub Law’s Trial Advocacy Program at the 2022 Gavel Gala honored Catherine with the Rising Star Award. “I feel so honored to have been selected to receive the Rising Star Award. When I was a little girl, newly arrived in the United States, I began to dream of becoming a lawyer. Based on what I saw on television, I imagined myself standing in a courtroom, vehemently defending the rights of people during some of the most challenging times in their lives. Years later, working at Brooklyn Defender Services I feel incredibly privileged. There, as a public defender, I have been able to work towards accomplishing this dream of being an advocate for the people in my community. I really wake up every day with that same goal I envisioned years ago – unapologetically committed to ensuring that people's most basic rights are protected. Receiving the Rising Star Award serves as an affirmation for all of the hard work and sacrifices that were integral to achieving my goals and dreams.”