During the 20th century, millions of immigrants came to America seeking economic justice and a better way of life for themselves and their families. One young Alabamian’s life is a testament to the magnet of the American Dream for immigrant families.
Ivan Dollar’s mother is a Caucasian woman from Virginia, while his father is a Mexican who immigrated to California. Ivan himself was born in Mexico, and traveled with his family across the United States as a child. They ended up settling in rural northern Alabama, near the legendary music capital of Muscle Shoals.
“I would have to commute 20 minutes to school and back,” Ivan said. “I was far away from certain resources.”
Today, Ivan is a recipient of the Legal Services Corporation’s Equal Justice Rural Fellow award, and has spent nearly two weeks interning at LSA’s Selma Office.
With several internship options offered, Ivan chose Selma because of its rich history.
“I had never been to Selma before,” Ivan said. “After seeing the Selma movie , it struck a chord in me – I had to come here.”
Currently a second-year law student at Birmingham’s Cumberland School of Law, Ivan has a passion for public interest work. He stated his internship in Selma has been “interactive.”
“I’ve gotten to do several divorce cases, some garnishments and now, I’m doing social security briefs,” Ivan said. “I’ve been to the court house and have interacted with the clerk and the juvenile officers there. Everything that I’ve learned in law school is starting to piece together.”
Michael Forton, the Director of Advocacy for LSA, said the Rural Summer Legal Corps is a great way for LSA to draw more legal talent to the Black Belt — a historically impoverished area that contains nine out of the 10 poorest counties in the state.
“We believe that this is a great opportunity to work with community organizations, churches and other local nonprofits to make a difference for the people in the most need,” Forton said. “We were lucky to find Ivan … his passion and commitment to working with the rural poor were clear from the application and interview. I’m very excited to have Ivan be a part of LSA this summer.”
Ivan said his heritage has played a role in how he perceives the world.
“I knew I wanted to become a lawyer after I became a naturalized citizen in the United States,” Ivan said. “I experienced how difficult the process to become a citizen of the United States really was.
“When I was 13 years old, we would get all the documents together and head to Atlanta for our appointment,” Ivan said. “On two occasions, we got to Atlanta and we found out we didn’t have the proper documentation, or we needed a document translated for some reason; that’s difficult when you live four or five hours from the closest naturalization office.”
Ivan said if his family had known a lawyer who specialized in immigration or administrative law at the time, things may have turned out differently.
“I was fortunate enough for my parents to have had enough resources to go back-and-forth without an undue hardship on us [the family],” Ivan said, who has four siblings. “Some people just don’t have that disposable income here in Selma to negotiate their way through the administrative process. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be an attorney to help facilitate that process.”
For Ivan, becoming an attorney to help the underserved, is a lifelong dream.
“Through me going to law school and having that unique experience of not being born in the U.S., I can take that experience and help other people help themselves – help people navigate the administrative process, or become citizens of the United States,” Ivan said. “I want to help to overcome boundaries and bridge gaps among the races.”