Associate Dean and Professor at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Carolina Núñez, shares the international aspects of her legal career. Dean Núñez was born in the United States while her parents were attending Brigham Young University and spent most of her childhood in her father’s native country of Venezuela. At age nine, her parents divorced. She began to split time between the two countries, which required that she adjust to schooling in English and the 80’s pop culture of big hair and curling irons. Dean Núñez attended BYU, where she also chose to attend law school—a plan that would both allow her to continue her education and enable her to improve the world around her.
Dean Núñez had the opportunity to work abroad during law school as a summer intern with a firm in Venezuela. It was a politically turbulent time, where tear gas scenarios were simply a fact of life to the people. In this same period of unrest, she observed the Venezuelans’ warm, relationship-based approach to business and was impressed with their greater tolerance for women in the legal profession than she had seen in her U.S. internships. After completing law school, she clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals 5th Circuit in Austin, Texas and later worked at a law firm in Salt Lake City. Núñez joined the BYU Law School faculty in January 2008, where she became Associate Dean of Research and Academic Affairs in 2017 and Associate Dean of Faculty and Curriculum in 2020.
Dean Núñez primarily researches immigration law, citizenship, and constitutional rights, with an emphasis on undocumented immigrants. Prior to her research, her only experience with immigration law had been her own immigration and that of family members. It took years of research for her to fully understand the U.S. immigration system, and she was shocked at many of the myths that exist. For example, many assume that the majority of undocumented immigrants enter illegally across the southern border, when most have, in fact, legally entered the country and just overstayed their visas. Misconceptions like this impact the ability to target issues with policy.
Legal Help at the Border
Each year, Dean Núñez takes a team of law students to volunteer at a detention center in Dilley, Texas. She first became aware of family immigration detention centers as they were being implemented during the Obama administration. In these facilities, women and children—who possess very little knowledge of the asylum process—are temporarily housed and screened. The law students are able to help these immigrants prepare for credible fear interviews, apply for asylum in the U.S., and draft legal documents. The stories these families tell are heart wrenching, but Dean Núñez knew that this would be a meaningful service experience to share with her students.
Immigration law has a major impact on global businesses. A lot of this international movement is prompted by companies who need more talent and are unable to find what they are looking for among their own population. In international economics, international factor movements are fluctuations of labor, capital, and other factors of production in various countries that are restricted by regulation. Immigration laws essentially dictate who these companies are allowed to hire and can alter the composition of the labor force. For example, past crack downs on undocumented immigration in southern states have hurt the productivity of the farming sector, whose workforce is primarily made up of undocumented immigrants. Policymakers who focus on business needs must understand the impact of immigration law.
Better Days 2020
Dean Núñez serves on the governing board of Better Days 2020, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to publicizing Utah women’s history in an effort to empower modern day Utahns. In the media, Utah is not always shown as being friendly to women’s rights, advancement, and education; however, Utah was the first state to grant women the right to vote and has historically had more women with advanced degrees and careers. Leading up to the anniversary of the 14th amendment’s ratification, Better Days 2020 is spreading the news about Utah’s rich history through educational modules for schools and celebrations throughout the state. These stories are important to us today because “when you can identify with somebody, then you can see a little of that person in you.”
Advice to Students
Dean Núñez encourages young leaders to develop the qualities of honesty and transparency. It can be easy to make decisions without revealing the underlying intention, but a willingness to share encourages trust and teamwork. Team members will trust a leader’s decisions and ability to accept feedback when they are forthcoming. She also encourages students going into the workforce to embrace the opportunity to make mistakes. Fear can be paralyzing, but “it would be better to try and make that mistake than to just not try anything.” For more information and advice from Dean Carolina Núñez, tune into our Cultural Conversations podcast.