Young Champion of Justice 2018: Rep. Juana Matias

Rep. Juana Matias, 31, is an attorney and state representative for the 16th Essex District, the first Latina immigrant elected to our Legislature. Born in the Dominican Republic, she came to the U.S. when she was 5 and watched her parents, both professionals, work blue-collar jobs for many years before starting a small business. That experience shaped her values and led her to pursue a career in public service.

After graduating from UMass Boston and Suffolk University Law School, she worked as a legal advocate for immigrant children in MIRA’s justice AmeriCorps program, based at Central West Justice Center in Worcester. She represented unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings, helping them obtain humanitarian relief.

As a freshman legislator, she took on the challenge of sponsoring the Safe Communities Act in the House, working closely with MIRA and a broad statewide coalition throughout the 2017–2018 session to advance the bill and build support across the Commonwealth. She also sponsored legislation to extend in-state tuition to all state residents.

In all her work, she has stood as a skilled, effective and impassioned advocate. Most recently, she ran for Congress, seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas. Though she didn’t prevail, she came in third in a 10-way Democratic primary, besting candidates with much greater funding by mobilizing Latino voters and by offering a compelling vision for social and economic justice that resonated across the diverse 3rd District. Wherever her passion takes her next, we look forward to a long and productive collaboration!

Watch a video of the award presentation and acceptance (on Facebook)

 

The Analisa Smith-Perez Young Champion of Justice Award

Analisa Smith-Perez, daughter of Vivian Perez and Dana Smith, had a passion for public service and giving voice to the voiceless. Her advocacy for immigrants and refugees began when she was still a student at Suffolk Law School, when she interned at MIRA and then at Kids In Need of Defense. In 2015, she joined the justice AmeriCorps program, serving at Northeast Legal Aid in Lynn, where she represented unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings. She had just joined the firm Araujo and Fisher when, in November 2016, she passed away at the young age of 30.

The Young Champion of Justice Award honors Analisa’s memory by recognizing a young advocate who, like Analisa, has shown an exceptional dedication to defending the rights and improving the lives of immigrants, especially those who are highly vulnerable or disenfranchised.