Written by The Business Journal Staff
Virna L Santos, Partner
Santos & Santiago Law Group, LLP
What we do: We are a woman- and minority-owned Limited Law Partnership offering legal services in four practice areas: immigration; criminal defense; bankruptcy; and employment discrimination
Education: University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Bachelors in Arts in Political Science, 1987
Harvard Law School, Juris Doctor, 1990
What led you into the field of law, Virna?
I always wanted to be an attorney. Books and movies shaped my idea of the type of lawyer I wanted to be. I wanted to be in court, trying cases. I was fortunate to have supportive parents who encouraged me to excel. In law school, I interned as a student prosecutor in Boston. I also served as a law clerk to a federal judge. Those experiences cemented my desire to become a federal prosecutor here in Fresno. I held that position here, in Colombia and in Washington, DC. I derive personal satisfaction from helping others address their legal problems as they would if they had my education and training.
What did you learn from your time as a federal prosecutor, Virna?
I learned that prosecutors possess tremendous power that must be exercised in a prudent manner. That is why I always endeavored to treat all parties with dignity and respect.
How has your time training prosecutors in Latin America affected your worldview, Virna?
I was impressed with the high level of education that members of law enforcement possessed. Almost all investigators, prosecutors and judges with whom I had the honor to work were committed to improving their criminal justice system. It was my job to help them build the capacity necessary to master their new criminal justice system.
What’s important that people know about the unaccompanied migrant children coming from Central America, Virna?
Through my work with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, I worked with the governments of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. In that capacity, I saw the desperate conditions in which families are raising their children while trying to protect them from rampant violence. One of the reasons I decided to practice immigration law is to serve that community in finding ways to come to this country legally. There are options for these children to obtain legal status and I would be honored to use my training and language skills to guide them through that process.
It must be a busy time to be an immigration attorney. Can you tell us about it, Virna?
Yes, it is. The law is changing fast and our office is always working to ensure that our clients are able to benefit from any of the changes in the law that may apply them. As an attorney, it is my job to help clients understand how these changes affect them and their families.
What’s your outlook on comprehensive immigration reform? Will it happen and what should it look like?
Based on what I saw in Washington, DC, the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform are not good. What we have instead is a patchwork of short time fixes that ignores the reality of what needs to happen to help legalize the status of the people who are here.
What is the best advice you ever received, Virna?
I received the same great advice from my parents and from my mentor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor: act with humility and treat others with dignity and respect, no matter their station in life.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Virna?
I came to Fresno 19 years ago to work as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of California. I developed very strong ties with my community, serving as a Big Sister for 10 years in the Big Brother Big Sisters of the Central Valley and serving on its Board. Most of my dear friends are here. I have returned to serve my community again after gaining international experience in the very countries from which many of my clients hail, including Mexico.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Virna?
My very first job was as a ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain at 16 years old. I learned the importance of hard work and knowing that you have to start from the bottom to work your way up.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Virna?
I spend my spare time with my family. I also enjoy reading and practice yoga.