Living in Ridgewood helped shape this student into a ‘Law Student of the Year’

Carlos Valenzuela of Stockholm Street in Ridgewood has been named a "Law Student of the Year" by National Jurist Magazine.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Valenzuela

The ethnically diverse characteristics of Ridgewood have helped shaped one of its own into a young lawyer looking to help immigrants with their rights and aid them in gaining permanent status in the country.

Carlos Valenzuela, a lifelong resident of Stockholm Street, is a third-year student at New York Law School (NYLS) who has been named one of the honorees as a “Law Student of the Year” by National Jurist.

The magazine selected 25 students from more than 200 law schools across the country for this award. Valenzuela was recognized for demonstrating an enduring commitment to public interest law by participating in a variety of programs that serve to enrich the lives of those who may not otherwise have access to legal services.

Being from Ridgewood, Valenzuela has always been surrounded by immigrants and in tune with their needs and concerns, which has helped him with his public interest law work.

“I just wasn’t aware of how serious it was until I started getting involved though work, and that is what pushed me to become an even stronger advocate for immigrant rights,” Valenzuela said. “Now I’ve been lucky enough to be able to help kids to get green cards. A lot of what I do now relates back to the schools here in Ridgewood and the great teachers I had here growing up. Every teacher I’ve had here in Ridgewood has had an impact on me.”

Valenzuela began volunteering with the Safe Passage Project, a nonprofit organization connected to NYLS that addresses the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth, during his first year at NYLS and has moved into the position of pro bono scholar with the organization. While working with Safe Passage Project, Valenzuela has taken up the mantle of helping children come into the United States.

“Because children are so vulnerable, they need a voice,” Valenzuela said. “I think that just hearing stories of children experiencing such horrible things back in their home country, whether it be physical abuse or psychological abuse, or neglect or abandonment, a child doesn’t deserve to go through that.”

Valenzuela does not just talk the talk; he convinced his father to become the guardian of a child who was in danger of being deported if he did not find a guardian. Now the child is on route to getting a green card and completing his GED.

“It’s been great for me to see it because it gives me a better image of what every other kid is going through so that it makes me a better advocate for them,” Valenzuela said. “When I talk to them, when I represent them in front of the court, [I can] better relate to them.”

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