A relentless advocate for the immigrant community honored
On Feb. 28th, the Hispanic Bar Association (HBA) of Pennsylvania honored Enriquez with the La Justicia award for her work as Director of Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Immigration has been a huge talking point in the United States, particularly within the last few years. Amid the current administration’s efforts to rescind DACA and build a border wall, denigrating the importance of immigrants along the way, there have been many hard-working, important people working to support the immigrant community.
Miriam Enriquez is one of those hard-working, important people.
On Thursday, Feb. 28, Enriquez was presented with the La Justicia Award during a ceremony hosted by the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania for her work helping the immigrant community.
Hired by Mayor Jim Kenney, Enriquez has served as the Director of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Philadelphia since Jan. 2016.
“I can personally attest to the tremendous amount of work she’s done for the city as the Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs,” Mayor Kenney said at the event. “We care deeply about the well-being of Philadelphia’s immigrant community.”
Kenney acknowledged the heightened level of urgency and attention that is now needed for the immigrant community since the 2016 election. He praised the work Enriquez has done to lead efforts to help the immigrant community.
“Miriam and her staff have helped steer the city through these unchartered waters,” he said. “Rather than buckle under pressure, Miriam and her team helped us remain a welcoming city, end the PARS agreement with ICE, and expand the access to the abundance of resources for our immigrant communities.”
“Philadelphia is a better city because of her, and her team at the [Office of] Immigrant Affairs,” he continued.
Kenney credited Enriquez’s fierceness, along with her intelligence, work ethic and sociability for allowing her to be able to take on such difficult, important issues, especially at this point in time.
As she accepted the honor, Enriquez thanked the mayor “whose powerful and inclusive mission has made our city a place that welcomes and celebrates everyone, including our immigrants,” she said.
A wife and mother to three young daughters, Enriquez also took the time to thank them for the sacrifices they’ve made, and their support, which has allowed her to often work late nights for an event or conference call.
Above all, Enriquez said the La Justicia award means the most to her because it comes from her professional peers -- other Latino lawyers. Despite Latinos being severely underrepresented in the legal field, Enriquez described the Latino legal community as “small, but mighty.”
“I love the HBA because the lawyers who comprise the HBA know what it’s like to work hard, to strive for excellence, to lead with compassion, and to be role models in the community,” said Enriquez.
“To be given this award, that by its very name, ‘la justicia, justice’, exemplifies the underlying theme in my work, it’s simply humbling,” she continued.
With her work, Enriquez hopes to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and is given an opportunity to succeed, no matter who they are, where they came from, what they look like, or what language they speak.
“I devoted my entire legal career to public service, advocating for justice in various parts of city government,” she said.
Prior to joining the Office of Immigrant Affairs in 2016, Enriquez worked for three years in City Council, helping craft and pass landmark legislation to help protect immigration services consumers in the city. Her career started in 2005, when she began a seven-year tenure as a prosecutor.
The city of Philadelphia is currently home to more than 230,000 immigrants.
However, Enriquez said, “the unending and irresponsible attacks on immigrants has created an atmosphere of palpable fear and anxiety.”
She sees that fear and anxiety everyday, and works relentlessly to help ease some, if not most, of those fears. She added that she and her team do that by going to court and stopping the federal government from trying to force welcoming cities to change their policies.
With engagement from the local legal community and partnerships with the Philadelphia Bar Association and legal aid organizations, Take Action Philly, an initiative that tackles issues important to all Philadelphians and our immigrant communities, came to life.
“We know the value of our immigrant communities here in Philadelphia,” said Enriquez. “Immigrants are entrepreneurs, they own businesses, and provide jobs. So we encourage them to take active roles in our city through workforce development and trainings… we also encourage them to get civically involved.”
In a collaborative effort between Enriquez and Mayor Kenney, the Office of Immigrant Affairs worked with City Council to draft a bill to make the Office of Immigrant Affairs a permanent fixture. The mayor signed the bill this past week, and it now awaits Philadelphia citizens’ votes.
Enriquez’s closing remarks highlighted the importance of the HBA, and the influence one of her role models, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, has had on her.
“Organizations like the HBA helps support and strengthen our profession, our communities, and our country. I’ve always been proud to be a relentless advocate,” she said.
“I’m even prouder to be a Latina,” she said before quoting Sotomayor from 2012: "Remember that no one succeeds alone. Never walk alone in your future paths."
“As I look around this room at all the diverse people in our collective right here in this room, I am filled with such gratitude because I know that I am not alone.”