Rachel Ray, Class of '11
UC Davis School of Law 2023 Rising Star Alumna Award winner Rachel Ray ’11, a Managing Attorney for the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, has been with the organization since just after its founding in 2015. The Center provides immigration legal representation to undocumented students and immediate family members of students from across the University of California. Before joining the Center, Rachel first returned to UC Davis to take on a special project representing unaccompanied undocumented minors in removal (deportation) proceedings, so that they could remain safely in the United States.
In describing Rachel’s guidance in working with the Center’s clients, her colleague Aidin Castillo '11 said Rachel’s work “has transcended the immigration field, it has advanced equity in higher education, and has positioned UC Davis as a leader in this area.” She added, “Rachel is a shining example of demonstrating commitment to social justice, equity, and excellence in legal representation.”
What drew you to immigration law?
I had worked with English language learners for years, and I thought I would go into education. The population I worked with was primarily Spanish speakers. When I applied to law school, I was working at an elementary school with students who were at risk for retention at their grade levels. One of those kids later became a client here. He graduated, came to college, and became a DACA client about a decade after I first worked with him. I specifically went to law school to advocate for young people. And I came to King Hall specifically for the Immigration Clinic.
Beyond that, my family’s immigration history, specifically that of my Jewish diaspora maternal side’s, was something we talked about a lot in my home. That journey was quite different from my clients’, but the stories normalized for me the experience of having to flee from your country of birth. Now, I understand that knowing my family’s immigration history is a privilege not everyone has.
What do you think most Americans don’t understand about immigration?
How challenging it is to obtain a green card or, more generally, to lawfully immigrate to the United States.
You have a lot of experience representing younger people. What qualities do you think an attorney needs to be able to do that?
I originally came back to King Hall for the unaccompanied minors program. That was some of the hardest and most rewarding work I ever did. The youngest child I worked with was four or five. For the last seven years, I’ve mostly worked with college-age students and graduate students. And most of my current role is management.
It’s important to work with our clients, both to understand their wants and needs and to have them learn so they can advocate for themselves in the future. I’m not the guardian of knowledge, and I have just as much to learn from them. I like the term “co-powering” instead of “empowering,” because it implies collaboration.
It’s really about humility, which requires us to unlearn. As lawyers, we’re taught to be the person who knows everything, but the client is the keeper of their own story. We’re here to help them apply that story to the law in a way that will help them meet their needs.
Co-powering and agency are especially important when we’re working with survivors of trauma, and I would argue that most of our clients are survivors of trauma. Their lived experience of being undocumented can be a form of ongoing trauma. As lawyers, we can be a receptacle for their stories.
I’ve learned a great deal from my clients. I’m always learning how best to stay conscientious, and that’s an ongoing process. I read all the time, particularly about antiracism and compassion. I want to be a safe space for our clients and our staff.
How do you give back to King Hall?
At every turn, I think about how to pay homage to King Hall, with its legacy from Martin Luther King Jr. and its role as a social justice law school. To honor that, I started an externship/internship program for our law students. We involve student volunteers, often as translators. I do a lot of informational interviews for students interested in immigration law, and am in my second year as a member of King Hall’s new Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I also volunteer at the Clinic’s community naturalization workshops.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to read. I like to hang out with my dogs. I like to be silly with my child, Tim. I paint — I do a lot of painting with watercolors. I like to spend time with Errol. [Rachel is married to Errol Dauis ’11, a previous Rising Star Alumnus Award winner and Alumnus of the Month.] As a family, we camp and hike together. I have a passion for gardening with California native plants and rewilding our tamed spaces.
Why did you first come to King Hall and what brought you back?
I was first attracted by its social justice mission and the Immigration Clinic. I spoke to both Holly Cooper and Cappy White at the Admitted Students Weekend. [Holly Cooper is the Immigration Law Clinic’s co-director; Cappy White is the King Hall Civil Rights Clinic’s supervising attorney.]
Later, Errol and I wanted to come back to the area. We were done with living in the Bay Area and wanted to be involved in a community that we liked and cared about. We have become involved in the Sacramento community, and I teach art at Tim’s school. Tim’s first family lives here, so as fost-adopt parents, it’s important for us to stay connected.
I had a fantastic experience as a student, and it’s a privilege to work for the university.
What is your favorite King Hall memory?
Cardozorama. Watching Professor Larson play the piano and Errol sing with Law Capella. Our school had so much beautiful talent. Seeing who people are outside of class indicated how cool our classmates are.
The name changed to Aokirama our 3L year, in honor of Professor Keith Aoki. I was working with him on an article when he passed. Bill Hing, who had been a professor here, got the article published. Both professors were great mentors to many of us, and models of community and rebellious lawyering.
Of what are you proudest?
My child. I’m proud of who he is: this amazing person I get to know who chose to live with us. I get to be extra braggy because we’re not biologically related.
I’m also really proud that I get to work in a profession that allows me to live a life closely aligned with my values.
Do you have any advice for current law students?
Figure out what you care about that you can do in a way that is sustainable and that will let you have both the personal and professional life you want to have so you, too, can live a life aligned with your values.
Learn from your current and future clients because that will make you a better advocate.