Miriam Enriquez has always wanted to be a voice for the people. From the victims of crime to the immigrant communities her department represents, Enriquez has served as both a representative and an inspiration to anyone who comes in contact with her. Coming from a long line of strong Latina women (her father has 5 sisters) she has seen and truly embodied the vast diversity that is the experience of womanhood. A mother of three and lawyer by trade, the Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs shows that if you want to see a community or organization thrive, put a few women on your team. Her outstanding grace and strong resolve for being of service to those who need it most can serve as an inspiration to any woman seeking to reach the top.
Read more about Miriam’s inspiring story below.
Tell us about your current career, how did you get there?
"Currently, I’m the Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Philadelphia. My pathway to get here is a little bit unconventional in that I started my career as a prosecutor - I’m a lawyer by trade and worked in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for seven years. After that, I worked in City Council where I was the Director of Legislation and Policy for a Councilman. While at the DA’s office, I started getting very interested in immigration. One day as I was sitting in the courtroom- after I did a trial and the defendant was found guilty- the judge and the defense attorney began talking about fashioning the defendant’s sentence so as to not trigger deportation. That experience made me realize that I really needed to learn the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction," says Enriquez. She stated that her interest in immigration only deepened when she worked with City Council, "I had the honor of writing and helping my boss pass legislation that regulates businesses that provide immigration assistance services here in the city. So we were the 3rd city in the country to have this type of legislation […] And right now, Philadelphia's legislation is model legislation for the country."
What's the most rewarding part of your career for you?
"I’ve dedicated my entire career to public service. The DA’s Office, City Council and now, the Office of Immigrant Affairs. What I find the most rewarding about public service is that you can truly make a difference in people’s lives. That your everyday work - the policies and the programs that you put in place - have a true effect and actually change people’s quality of life."
What was your dream job as a kid and why?
"Since I can remember, I always said I wanted to be a lawyer […] While in law school, my best friend’suncle, a police officer here in the city, told me, 'You know, I think you’d be really good at the DA’s office.' And I said, 'No I don’t want to do that,' - not even knowing what the DA’s office really did. But he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. […] And during my first day interning in the office with a homicide DA, I absolutely loved it. […] I saw a side of the criminal justice system you don’t see in law school and that is the victims. Being a prosecutor was being a voice and an advocate for the victims - the people who at times don’t really have a voice. That really inspired me."
What woman currently inspires you and why?
"I wouldn’t pick one woman. I currently work with an amazing group of women that are leaders within city government. I am learning so much from all of them on how to lead and get results. They are all proof positive that women can get things done. They are immensely motivated, strong, smart, personable and helpful. These women inspire me every day and I feel fortunate to be in their circle.”
How have the women in your life shaped you?
"I come from a long line of very strong Latina women. My dad has five sisters and they are all very different. Some of my aunts are working women, others are homemakers, and from each of them I learned that it’s ok to strive to be a successful working woman while at the same time be a great mom, wife, and have a wonderful home. So I pull a little bit from each of them, as I try and find balance in my life. Beyond that, I think about the grace and strength that each has shown through the difficult times that life has thrown their way. It’s this strength that inspires me and has shaped me the most. To know that we are all strong enough to get up and keep going no matter what.”
Who were your mentors?
"I’ve been extremely fortunate in that at the DA’s office, in City Council and now in the Administration, I really have been surrounded by strong women that look out for each other. I’ve been blessed to have supervisors who looked out for me, who really had my best interest in mind and helped me grow as a prosecutor, as a lawyer and now as a leader. These women have taught me that women need to look out for each other, learn from each other, build each other up, and that’s the only way we’ll get ahead."
What does it meant to you to be a Latina in your industry? Do you find yourself to be the only woman or Latina in the room often?
"I’m a Latina lawyer. Although I’m not practicing law now, that’s really my skill set. And I think when you’re talking about Latinas, especially in the legal profession, you really have to look at the statistics. Latinas make up 7% of our population in the U.S. and we only make up 1.3% of the legal profession. There’s 13,000 Latina lawyers in the country. And that’s nothing compared to other attorneys from other racial and ethnic groups . […] When I started at the DA’s office I was the only Latina in my entering class. While in the courtroom, I’ve definitely found myself being the only Latina in the room. With that said, in my current position, I have met many other Latinas who are leading offices of immigrant affairs
throughout the country, and that is just simply amazing and inspiring!”
What career advice would your give to younger women?
Believe in yourself, never turn away from a challenge and never doubt yourself or your abilities. Many times you’ll be the only woman or the only Latina in the room or in your office, and that’s ok, be sure of yourself. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but that’s how you grow. Find work that you will be passionate about because that will be the best reward. And always remember—anything a man can do, you can do and do it better!"
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
"I think the biggest barrier is being a woman. And that’s held against you. And it’s not blatant. It’s those unspoken biases about women that you see in the workplace. It’s important to diversify leadership and the workplace. I’m very fortunate to work for a Mayor who recognizes how important it is to have government look like the people they serve and he has made an effort to hire Latinas in every level of government, especially in leadership. Once you recognize that, and recognize how important it is to have diversity, we’re going to get there."
What can be done to increase the number of Latinas in your industry?
"It’s especially important for young Latina women, if we want to see them in the legal profession, to see people like them. Highlighting Latinas in our communities is great. Highlighting Latinas in leadership positions, in the legal profession, and in any other profession where we’re under represented and getting the message out there so that if a young girl is reading the newspaper, this book, this magazine, they’re going to see a name that looks like their name or someone that looks like them and inspiresthem. They can know,'You are Latina. You can do anything. And you can be a lawyer. You can work at a law firm, you can be a prosecutor, you can be a leader. The fact that you’re a Latina does not limit what you can do.'"
Any secret talent or hobby? Community work?
"I have to be honest, I have 3 young girls. A six-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old and when I’m not working, I’m at my other job and that’s being a mom. I'm working at my most important job- being a mom and spending time with them and making sure that they know that mom’s there no matter what. I’m the chair of the PTA at their pre-school, so I try to get involved in that way but in my free time I’m with my babies."
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