This Formerly Undocumented Lawyer Made History When He Was Admitted to the Colorado Bar

Lead Photo: Photo by Thomaguery / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Photo by Thomaguery / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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When the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law admitted Edgar Barranza, the young Mexican-born student came one step closer to fulfilling his dream. He also made history. “I became the first undocumented student to be admitted to law school in Colorado and was also the first formerly undocumented student, also known as a ‘Dreamer,’ to graduate from law school and gain admission to the Colorado Bar,” he said.

At age 11, Barranza and his family immigrated from Mexico to the United States, settling in west Denver. Arriving that summer, Barranza and his siblings imagined they’d have time to enjoy their time off school. However, their mother had different plans. She immediately enrolled them in English classes, so they could hit the ground running when school rolled around again. Since then, his mother set an example that education came first. “My mother has always been the one that is our main drive,” he told the University of Denver (DU). “She has always pushed us. From the very first time that we came to the United States, we saw education as the only key to success for advancing ourselves.”

By the time he entered high school a few years later, he was serious about his studies. But he also knew that he needed to support his family. He began juggling school and a full-time job at Wendy’s, working the graveyard shift. After getting off of work at 2 or 3 a.m., he’d complete his home work. Some nights he didn’t sleep.

Despite his high marks – he ranked sixth in his class of about 250 – many of his teachers tried to steer him toward community college because of his undocumented status. But Barranza, who had participated in the Volunteers in Partnership program at the University of Denver, fell for DU. Without federal or state financial aid, he applied to the Nagel International Scholarship – awarded to three students annually – which covers all expenses. That year, the scholarship only went to two students, and Edgar didn’t make the cut.

Understandably, he felt defeated, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on this setback. Instead, the tenacious teen reached out directly to Ralph Nagel and asked for a meeting. Barranza ended up making an impression on Nagel and earning himself a scholarship. A few years after wrapping up undergrad, he decided to attend law school at DU. Funding was once again an issue – but not one he couldn’t solve.

With the help from a family member in Mexico, he received a loan from a Mexican bank for 1L. The next year, he won a private scholarship from a private law firm in Denver. And his last year, he once again asked Nagel for monetary assistance. Barranza now works at a private commercial litigation firm, and he acknowledges that he didn’t arrive at this place completely on his own. That’s why he volunteers in DU’s VIP program as a mentor.

“Giving back is one of those values that I hold dearly,” he said. “Giving back to my community, giving back to someone who is in the place that I was, it’s one of the best things that I can do and the least I can do.”

Learn more about his inspiring story below: