Alumna Morelia Tinajero Advocates for Alabama's Hispanic Community

Jan 8, 2024Dalton Bright
Morelia Tinajero

Morelia Tinajero receives diploma from Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics at the 2018 graduation ceremony at Wallace State Community College.

Hanceville, AL — Morelia Tinajero has devoted her life to helping immigrants call Alabama home. She works at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) as a Department of Justice accredited immigration case manager and serves as the instructor for both civics and English as a second language courses at HICA. She is an advocate for immigration law and her mission to help others is an everyday adventure. To Tinajero, immigration is a deep passion, and one that has been with her since watching her father take the steps needed to become a registered American citizen.

“As a young child, I remember helping my father study for his citizenship test every day for months. We would try different ways for him to retain the information needed to reach his goal of becoming a United States citizen. After a long journey, he finally was able to accomplish this goal and continue living his American dream here in the United States,” said Tinajero. “Since then, I have always wanted to assist others in this same process. Watching others struggle in navigating immigration and the American legal system motivated me to want to help them understand and achieve their goals.”

SSS AwardTinajero was born in Houston, Texas and relocated to Oneonta when she was a child. In 2015, Tinajero began taking classes in the Paralegal program at Wallace State Community College. During this time, Tinajero was a member of the Paralegal Club and Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for associate-degree students. While enrolled, Tinajero was often named on the President’s and Dean’s Lists. In May 2018, just a week after she became the first person in her family to graduate from college, Tinajero was named the 2017-2018 Student Support Services Student of the Year.

Student Support Services is a U.S. Department of Education TRIO program located on the campus of Wallace State Community College. This program strives to help students who are low-income, disabled or first-generation college students. The goal of SSS is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants and help students make the transition from one level of higher education to the next. Services provided by the program include academic advising, career counseling, transfer counseling, financial aid counseling, university visits and academic tutoring. Student Support Services is currently accepting students.

Wallace State hosts two federal TRIO programs, both specifically designed to support economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students. Alongside the Student Support Services program, the campus is also home to Talent Search, a TRIO program tailored to serve students in grades 6-12. Talent Search provides a range of services aimed at assisting students and their parents in navigating the process of preparing for and attending college. 

“When I first came to Wallace in the fall of 2015, I was a first-generation Latino student who did not know how to navigate the college system. Thanks to a brochure my stepmother Carla had picked up, I was able to apply and get accepted into a program that would change my life. TRIO is a program that allows students to exceed and achieve their academic goals. They provide students with the resources needed to continue striving in their career. They help students to create an educational plan to lay out their academic career and be guided throughout that process,” said Tinajero. “The first time that I came to TRIO I sat with my advisor who asked me the question that we all get asked, ‘what do you want to do?’ I hesitated and let her know that I wanted to learn Immigration law. We then proceeded to create a plan that would eventually guide me to HICA.”

Giving Back to her Community

Morelia Tinajero In October 2023, Tinajero presented at Wallace State Community College’s PULSE event on behalf of HICA. She facilitated a workshop on immigration and how individuals with DACA, or who have family members who do, can obtain citizenship. She also shared information about HICA, its programs and some of the resources available to those in the community.  

“During the PULSE workshop I was able to share some of the services that HICA offers to the community at a low cost or free service. We were able to discuss different Immigration scenarios and the resources that are available to those who need assistance. As a nonprofit, our mission here is to empower Latino and Immigrant families in Alabama.”

HICA is a community development and advocacy organization dedicated to enhancing opportunities for economic equality, civic engagement and social justice for Latino and immigrant families. The organization aims to empower Hispanic and immigrant families to integrate, engage and lead their communities.

“HICA is the only organization of its kind in the entire state of Alabama, and, as such, a crucial lifeline for this community, addressing these disparities and fostering a more inclusive, equitable and resilient Alabama. HICA serves over 3,500 Hispanic/Latino families every year. While many come from Jefferson, Shelby, Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties, our organization serves more than 40 counties annually and people from over 20 countries,” said Tinajero. She said HICA fills a growing need in our state, with the population of Hispanic/Latino residents increasing each year. 

"The population of Hispanic and Latino residents in Alabama has been steadily growing, contributing to the state's cultural and economic vibrancy. According to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama's Hispanic population soared to over 250,000, marking a 3.8 percent increase from 2021. From July 2021 to July 2022, nearly 9,200 new Hispanic residents made Alabama their home. These statistics highlight the changing dynamics in Alabama and the growing importance of the Latino community in our state's social and economic fabric,” said Tinajero. “HICA has a deep understanding of the community's needs, a proven track record in bridging cultural and linguistic barriers and a strong commitment to facilitating economic opportunities.” 

Four Ways HICA Supports Hispanic Community

The services provided by HICA are categorized into four organizational programs: The Strong Families Program, The Community Economic Development Program, The Empowering Communities Program and The Citizenship and Immigration Program. Over the years, opportunities and offerings have changed, but since its inception, HICA's main goal has been to move families out of poverty and create pathways for growth. Tinajero said through these programs, families can learn to navigate, merge and build their lives within the community.  

The Strong Families Program serves as the gateway for people who first come to ¡HICA! seeking information and provides them with both internal and external referrals. As such, ¡HICA! is a strong partner with community agencies and organizations whose specialties range from case management to court, family and victim’s advocacy. The program publishes monthly newsletters written in Spanish that provide information on community events and important news. The program also provides internal and external referrals to things such as family case management workers and victims advocacy organizations.  

The Community Economic Development Program provides the critical and necessary information for Hispanic and immigrant families to build financial stability for the future. The program offers financial coaching and informational courses in small business development.    

The Empowering Communities Program moves to develop civically engaged, workforce-ready individuals in a socially-just community. The program provides services and information for first generation immigrant youth, regardless of documentation or immigration status. College and career readiness is an important focus of this program, providing scholarships, help with filing forms for FAFSA and financial aid, information about educational institutions or technical learning facilities and educational alternatives for students who cannot study in public schools. Additionally, this program provides internship and volunteer opportunities within HICA and referral to area internships for high school and university students in the Birmingham Metro area.    

The Citizenship and Immigration Program works to improve the lives of Hispanic people who have recently come to Alabama by providing low-cost access to legal information and naturalization services with an authorized immigration representative. Tinajero works within the Citizenship and Immigration Program and said she is grateful for the opportunities she has had to help other people achieve their goals. 

“My role is to help students learn basic English in preparation for citizenship. We help guide them through this process by learning the history of the United States, their rights and the importance in being civically engaged. After a 10-week course we celebrate their accomplishments with a graduation,” said Tinajero. “It is important for us to recognize the effort and dedication that each student sacrifices to be present. Many students were unable to obtain an education due to lack of resources or funds in their native countries. At HICA we provide them with the opportunity to learn and be empowered to strive for their successes.”  

Tinajero said she treasures her time at Wallace State and that it shaped who she is today. She said the Tutorial Lab on the eighth floor of the Bailey Center was a helpful resource and where she spent most of her time when she became a student. In 2018, she began working there as a tutor. She said her time both studying and tutoring in the lab helped her network with countless other students and grow her social skills.   

“Being able to be involved and engaged in different activities on campus were some of my favorite parts about Wallace State. WSCC allowed me to have an open mind and see things from a different perspective, knowing there is more to explore. I personally loved being able to travel with TRIO to different cities to learn cultural and historical facts about the areas and others. This opened an opportunity for me to learn from my peers and build long lasting relationships and memories.” 

For more information about Wallace State Community College, visit, call 256.352.8000 or come by Lion Central in the lobby of the James C. Bailey Center Monday-Wednesday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or Friday 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information about the TRIO programs located on the campus of Wallace State, contact the Student Support Services office at 256.352.8073.  

Classes for for the Spring 2024 semester began Jan. 8, with registration continuing for regular and Mini Term I through Jan. 12.  and March 6 for Mini Term II. Registration for Flex Start I courses will be held Jan. 13-19, with classes starting Jan. 15 and registration for Flex Start II courses will be held Jan. 20-26, with classes starting Jan. 22. Visit to apply and register for classes.

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