Adriana García, JD

Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Los Angeles, CA

Adriana García is the former Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Los Angeles and is currently a Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ms. Garcia graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration in 2008. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Columbia University in 2012. She has held the title of Patiño Fellow since Graduation from Columbia.

Ms. García grew up as the oldest of four in a working-class Latino neighborhood in southern California. Early on, she became aware of the struggles of immigrant families like her own, especially while watching her parents navigate systems to support her younger brother who has special needs. She became determined to make a positive impact on the world by addressing social and racial inequities.

While studying at Yale, she learned the ropes of advocacy and organizing, fighting against xenophobic bills in Congress alongside her classmates. After graduating from college, Ms. García debated whether she could have the greatest impact through a legal education or a masters program in public policy. During her time participating in the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs in New York City, she decided on law school. During her time at Columbia Law School, she remained committed to a career in public interest and served as the president of the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and externed at the U.S. Department of Labor.

After law school, Ms. García served as a legal fellow at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the California Department of Fair Employment of Housing, where she largely focused on civil rights matters impacting different communities, including immigrants. During this time, she became determined to apply her knowledge of civil and constitutional law to advancing the rights of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. through public policy.

Ms. García has held a number of public policy positions including, most recently, Associate Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs under former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti – a position she was appointed to as a result of her expertise and previous policy work under former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Growing up in an immigrant household in the greater Los Angeles area, Ms. García was acutely aware that language was a huge artificial barrier to accessing public services and programs. While working for the City of Los Angeles, Ms. García led the team that made language access a major topic for the Mayor’s Office, making residents whose first language is not English a priority. Through her advocacy and leadership, her team created, and eventually implemented, what became the first-ever language access policy for the City of Los Angeles.

Ms. García observed through her work in major U.S. cities that private funding and philanthropy can help fill urgent needs that the government cannot. Today, Ms. García is using her public policy and social justice background to bring the full power of philanthropy to bear on bridging those gaps through her work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ms. García on policy advocacy:

“Be patient and be strategic. For the language access program, there was not a lot of traction due to other priorities and the tremendous cost, but COVID-19 hit and suddenly, we had to get important, life-saving messages out in multiple languages. The need became urgent and we already had policy proposals to address the issue. We were ready and found our opportunity during a moment of crisis.”

On the Tony Patiño Fellowship

“The Fellowship was key to my success in law school. First, the financial assistance was a huge stress reliever. Coming from a low-income background, asking my family for assistance was not an option. The funds helped me reduce my loans, overall… Second, I met people who got me through law school with their guidance and care and who are now some of my closest life friends. The Fellows-Elect ahead of me were incredible, one in particular was like a sister to me while I lived in New York City. Finally, the broader network was just amazing, especially during law school. I could always count on Bob (Magnanini) for advice, to celebrate our achievements, and to help us simply have a good time.”

Advice for current and future Fellows-Elect:

“Be open to changing your mind. Be open to career pivots. As lawyers, we tend to be very regimented, welcome the unexpected and get comfortable with change.”

Profile written by Sam Ruby (UC Law SF, Class of 2024)