The Idealist

Rosy Mancillas Lopez


At the age of six, Rosy Mancillas Lopez began a journey that would take nearly a decade to complete. When her family emigrated from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego in 1993 — legally sponsored by her mom, who held a permanent resident card — they had no way of knowing it would take years for Mancillas Lopez, her two older brothers and her dad to gain final approval.

“As kids, we would get picked up from elementary school and we went to lawyer after lawyer until we found one that would actually be helpful,” says Mancillas Lopez ‘09, whose family secured a legal waiver to remain in the United States during the process. “It took eight or 10 years for all of us to get our documents. It wasn’t until we finally got the response saying we’d been approved that I realized how much of a struggle it had been.”

Mancillas Lopez says one hero in their struggle was the attorney who guided her family through immigration; in fact, he inspired her to do the same with her life.

Ever the realist, she did not expect it to be easy. Rising at 2:30 every morning with her brothers to help her mom with a newspaper route, working full time at USD during the day and attending school at night, Mancillas Lopez earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Now a third-year USD law student focusing on international and immigration law and an advocate for justice and immigration reform, the humble Mancillas Lopez is already making a name for herself.

In November 2011, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development honored her with the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, given annually at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to a single national recipient for leadership and commitment to the poor.

While she works full time in USD’s University Ministry office and attends law school in the evening, Mancillas Lopez’s advocacy has included University Ministry day trips to Tijuana’s La Morita community, legal assistance and immigration education at a local parish through the San Diego Organizing Project, immersion trips to Chiapas, Mexico, and immigration casework at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. She is also a Big Sister to a local 15-year-old girl and a resident minister in USD’s San Buenaventura apartments.

Those who work with her have long expected great things, such as her high school Spanish teacher, Luis Castro, who has always called her “attorney Mancillas Lopez” and applauds her upcoming graduation. Her nomination for the Cardinal Bernardin Award was submitted by Director of University Ministry Michael Lovette-Colyer, who admires her ambition to help people navigate the immigration system and shape immigration policy.

Mancillas Lopez, however, doesn’t understand the attention. Now 24, she says her work is simply a way to carry forward the kindness she has received since she first stepped into her new country.

“I’ve had such huge support from so many people; I have no idea how I deserve all of this,” she says with characteristic humility. “I’ve been blessed with so many privileges in my life, and I really hope that someday I’m able to bless another person’s life in the same way.” — Trisha J. Ratledge 

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