Growing up in the Back of the Yards on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Jose Alonso (JD ’07) learned at an early age that the abogado, or lawyer, was a highly respected person in his neighborhood. “Everyone looked up to the abogado,” recalls Alonso, 28.
“I saw that if you studied law, you would have the ability to stand up for your people. And that’s what I wanted to do.”
Three years after graduating from Loyola’s School of Law, Alonso serves as staff attorney with the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project, representing farm workers in disputes over wages and housing. Many have come to Illinois to work on farms growing corn, strawberries, and fruit. “I’m making sure they get paid right and are treated with dignity,” says Alonso.
Alonso says his parish priest, the Rev. Bruce Wellems, pastor of Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, was an important part of his journey to the field of law. Wellems recognized Alonso’s leadership potential when he participated in the church’s choir and marimba band. He helped Alonso win acceptance to St. Lawrence Seminary, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Wisconsin.
Wellems recalls Alonso had an appreciation for social justice and political action while still in middle school. “He was aware of injustice early in life,” says Wellems. Alonso’s parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico who received legal status in 1986 in the Reagan-era amnesty program. “He told me that he was going to be the mayor of Chicago and change this city for the better. He had big dreams. Many kids back then were figuring out how they would live to be 21.” After majoring in sociology and political science at Northwestern, Alonso spent a year working on the unsuccessful 2004 U.S. Senate campaign of Gery Chico, ’85, serving as deputy director of the campaign’s Latino Vote Project. During the campaign, Chico suggested Alonso apply to Loyola’s School of Law.
“I gave it a shot, and got in,” Alonso says.
At Loyola, Alonso’s favorite class was Street Law, which brought him to a high school in Little Village, a Mexican-American neighborhood on the South Side. There, he’d teach students about criminal procedure, and their rights, as spelled out in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.
After interning with the City of Chicago Building Department, the Chicago Legal Clinic, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, he began working at the West Side office of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. While federal law prohibits the publically funded legal services agency from representing undocumented immigrants on most issues, there’s an exception for the victims of violence. Alonso focused on the victims of domestic violence, including many abused women. He also represented clients faced with evictions, bankruptcy, or divorce.
Alonso returned to Holy Cross-IHM, where he joined the parish council and created a support group for college students. He also chairs the immigration reform committee in a parish that draws 1,000 to Sunday Mass. This spring, the committee raised $18,000 to finance an advocacy trip to Washington DC, where 150 parishioners joined a massive rally for immigration reform. “We need to find a pathway for citizenship,” Alonso says. “People come to me after Mass on Sunday and say, ‘You are the abogado; we need your help.’ I hear their stories. And I’m doing what I can.”