Daughter of DACA recipients makes plans for law school

Has worked on legislation, planning to work in Student Affairs after graduation



WSU senior Samantha Cruz Mendoza said the biggest bill she worked on was Senate Bill 6561, which created an undocumented student financial aid program.

STEFFI LUDAHL, Evergreen reporter

Samantha Cruz Mendoza comes from a family of undocumented individuals but is a U.S. citizen herself. Whenever her family would go to events, they always worried that police or immigration might be there. 

“I know that I have so much privilege in the fact that I am documented,” said Mendoza, senior pre-law major.

Mendoza grew up with her parents and three younger siblings in a farming area near Bellingham, Washington. Immigration was often seen patrolling their town, she said. Although she grew up seeing this, Mendoza did not realize the severity of the situation until she was older. 

“I was, like, ‘Wow, if my parents get picked up, I’m stuck taking care of three kids,’” she said. “What do I do?”

Growing up around undocumented people, Mendoza said she became aware of lawyers who took advantage of immigrants, which was frustrating to see. Now, she wants to go to law school to be a better lawyer than those she has seen so others would not be taken advantage of.

At one point, one of her father’s coworkers called immigration on him. She said her father lost his job.

“At that moment, I was like, ‘Okay, well, this anti-immigrant issue will never go away until I fix it,’” Mendoza said. 

After law school and passing the bar exam, Mendoza wants to help her parents get documentation. She said she owes everything to her parents, especially her mother. Mendoza’s mother dropped out of high school and gave birth to her when she was 15 years old. 

“I don’t want them to have to worry about this anymore,” she said. “They currently have [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], but that’s always up in the air. It’s not stable.”

Mendoza is currently the ASWSU director of legislative affairs. During her two years as director, Mendoza said she was involved in policy work. She worked on major bills in the last few legislative sessions.

Mendoza said the biggest bill she worked on was Senate Bill 6561, which created an undocumented student financial aid program. She was also able to work with student groups from universities across Washington state and various undocumented students who testified on the bill. 

“The work she’s done, it blows my mind,” said Bryce Regian, ASWSU deputy director of legislative affairs. “She’s one of the strongest people I know.”

Regian has worked with Mendoza for a year. He said he is sad to see her go and does not know if anyone will be able to fill her shoes. 

“She wasn’t afraid to do things,” he said. “Even when she had things in her own life going on that should have hindered her ability to do her duty, she just kept powering through.”

As she gets ready for graduation, Mendoza said she is excited to start working in the WSU Divison of Student Affairs, helping undocumented students. Her dream is to attend New York University for law school. After law school, she hopes to open her own pro-bono immigration law firm. 

“I know that she is going to take that position working with undocumented students, and she’s going to do great things with it,” Regian said. “She’s not going to rest until what she wants to be achieved is achieved.”