Talia Barrales migrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, where she was born, to the United States with her family when she was three years old. At six, she started the long, complicated and expensive process toward citizenship — becoming a U.S. national 12 years later at age 18. Frustrated with the country’s thorny immigration system, as well as the local notaries who take advantage of foreigners, she has dedicated her adult years to fighting for immigrants and women, opening Barrales Law — an all-Latina-attorney law firm — in Boston.
“I remember sitting in an immigration office at 5 a.m. with my mom and seeing all of these people in suits skipping the line that we were waiting in, and I asked my mom, ‘how come those people get to skip the line?’ She told me they were lawyers, and at that moment I told my mom, ‘I am going to be a lawyer,’” Barrales told FIERCE.
She kept her word. Barrales, 33, completed her undergraduate degree in communications at California State University and went on to study law at Massachusetts School of Law. In 2013, she opened Barrales Law, a firm focusing on immigration that has since expanded to offer legal help and representation for family, personal injury and workers’ compensation in Massachusetts.
For Barrales, opening a private firm was one way she felt she could give back to her community.
(Courtesy of Talia Barrales | Andrea Coral, Talia Barrales and Alba Contreras)
“If not me, then who,” she asked. “I felt like I couldn’t work for anyone else because the legal field is dominated by white men, and I just grew up so angry with the immigration system that I knew I had to run my firm the way I wanted to.”
While representing clients in all aspects of immigration law, most of the firm’s cases deal with asylum, particularly among women and children, many of them survivors of domestic violence, gang violence or political prosecution.
Having gone through the immigration process herself, Barrales knows how costly legal fees can be, especially for communities that experience high rates of poverty, wage theft and exploitation. As such, she offers flexible payment plans for her clients, and nearly 10 percent of her cases are pro-bono. Even more, a portion of the firm’s earnings go back to the people it serves, whether through cost-free English classes or immigration reform advocacy.
Throughout Boston, the firm is recognized for its commitment, compassion, hard work and advocacy. While her all-immigrant female team of lawyers wasn’t intentional, Barrales believes it’s what drives everyone in her office to give all of their effort on every case.
(Courtesy of Talia Barrales | Alba Contreras, Talia Barrales and Andrea Coral)
Office life at Barrales Law is unlike many other firms. Here, there’s no rivaling between colleagues. Instead, there’s supportive conversations about how the women can grow in the firm as well as in their personal lives.
“I used to work in a predominantly white, male law firm, and there was always an underlying tension, almost like a competitiveness,” Andrea Coral, a Colombian-born attorney who joined the firm in 2017, said. “I don’t feel that here at all. When someone comes into the office and says they won an asylum, we all celebrate that victory, because it’s a collective effort that we all made as opposed to the urgency to win more than the person next to you.”
With Latinas making up just 2 percent of all U.S. lawyers, Barrales is creating a space where immigrant women of color don’t feel alone in their fight for justice. She is also working to see that tiny percentage increase. She uses her firm to establish a pipeline to inspire more women to enter law, from encouraging children of clients to practice, offering internships for undergraduate and graduate students and paying for her paralegals’ LSAT prep courses and law school applications.
“[Latinas] being in these spaces is so important, not only to our clients but to society, to change the narrative and perspective of what people think immigrants are,” Barrales said.
(Courtesy of Talia Barrales | Anny Asuncion, Elizabeth Bautista, Andrea Coral, Talia Barrales, Alba Contreras, Doris Lemus, Leidy Loaiza and Noelle Rudeen)
It’s evermore critical considering the anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric coming out of Washington under the Trump administration.
On the night that Donald Trump was elected president, Barrales remembered being a child and staying up late wondering what her family would do if California’s Proposition 187, legislation that would have prevented immigrants from receiving health care and public schooling, passed.
“I remember seeing the law signs that said ‘Vote Yes on 187,’ and when I got to school my white teacher would make me practice my English accent so I could stay in school if it did pass,” Barrales said.
The days following the 2016 presidential election, the phones in the office rang in panic from former and present clients who feared about their immigration cases.
“When my clients tell me that their kids are constantly texting them ‘are you OK? Are you still here,’ I remember that night, and it’s not anything a child should be thinking about,” Barrales said.
That’s why Barrales Law, a firm that pledges to advocate for its clients every step of the way, aspires to be the “immigration firm for immigrants.”
“We do this because we are trying to serve our community. We want to make sure we have all-around legal services for our people,” she said.