“Fight for what you believe in”
2004 graduate provides legal counsel for immigrants facing residency challenges
March 1, 2017
Katie Vannucci, ’04, was one of the first attorneys to arrive at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Saturday, Jan. 28.
Less than 24 hours had gone by since an executive order issued by President Donald Trump called for a travel ban affecting would-be visitors from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya.
As an immigration attorney who works with foreigners navigating the process of attaining legal status, Vannucci was at the airport that day to offer legal counsel to the individuals and families arriving in Chicago who would be impacted by the new order.
She admits she had no idea what to expect.
Surrounded by countless other immigration attorneys, protestors, confused foreign travelers, and bewildered American residents attempting to re-enter the U.S., Vannucci found herself in a familiar role.
The fear in the eyes of the incoming travelers, she said, is “the reason I continue to fight for what’s right, to stand up for the individuals who don’t have a voice in this process.”
Working toward Citizenship
Working daily with people who do not have a path to citizenship, Vannucci explained, is difficult. The future is unknown and therefore can seem bleak.
“It’s a matter of being honest with people, of talking to them about their reality, and going through what would happen if they are caught as undocumented immigrants in the United States,” she said.
“I also stress the importance of having legal counsel to protect their rights.”
In the days following Trump’s first immigration order, it was not easy for Vannucci to face her clients, most of whom are Mexican and Central American.
“The thought of having to face my clients and their fear was very challenging,” she said. “But I never forget the fact that we are a country and nation of immigrants, and I will continue to fight for immigrants’ rights.”
Vannucci is working to help permanent residents from countries not impacted by the order to apply for citizenship.
“Permanent residents who have never filed for citizenship are doing so now, and they’re doing it fast,” she explained. “It is in my power to help create as many citizens as we can so that in the next election, we have as many people as possible able to participate.”
Seeking Her Calling
As a political science major at Loyola, Vannucci knew she was interested in pursuing law school following graduation. After taking Spanish classes throughout high school and the first two years of college, she embarked on a semester abroad in Spain during her junior year to further develop her language skills. Vannucci said she remembers being intimidated by the daunting thought of communicating only in Spanish—but by the end of the semester, she was nearly fluent.
Determined not to let her Spanish slip away when she left Spain, Vannucci decided to pursue an internship that summer with an immigration law firm in Danbury, Conn., close to her hometown of Bethel.
Her interest in working with Spanish-speaking immigrant populations deepened further after her experience with Loyola’s then Project Mexico, a service-immersion program during which a group of students, faculty, and administrators spent a semester learning about the challenges faced by border populations in Mexico, and then traveled to this region via San Diego to interact with and work alongside the local community for a week during winter break.
Engaging with the Mexican people and hearing their stories had a profound impact on Vannucci, then a senior, who still remembers her reaction to seeing the U.S.-Mexico border. “It was an interesting perspective to see the border (from the Mexico side) and how militarized it was, especially after having spent the previous summer at an immigration law firm.”
She considers her experience influential in her decision to pursue immigration law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law the following year.
“Project Mexico was my calling to help these people, to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I’ve always carried that with me, and I think that trip was one of the turning points,” she said.
The Right Fit
During her final year of law school, Vannucci was conflicted about the direction of her legal career. She did not want a career based on amassing monetary wealth, she said, but rather to work for and with her clients.
So she took a position with a firm based in downtown Chicago where the office walls were plastered with family photos of former clients—and whose attorneys were nearly all graduates of Jesuit schools.
“I immediately knew I was home, that it was the right fit for me,” she said of Robert D. Ahlgren and Associates, where she has worked for a decade.
As Supervisory Attorney at her firm, Vannucci keeps the Jesuit values close at heart in her work, particularly as the president’s administration continues to vocalize plans for policies that target immigrant populations.
“Pope Francis is a voice of wisdom that I need in these times,” she said, acknowledging that her life would be very different had she not been “trained by the Jesuits.”
“It’s so great to be part of a profession where you can actually stand up and do something,” she said.
But you don’t have to be an immigration attorney to be a person for others.
“Be a voice for the voiceless, help this democracy and all people here in this country, and fight for what you believe in—and what America stands for.”