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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Christina Fialho

Christina Fialho

Christina Fialho '06

Co-Executive Director, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement

Christina Fialho’s life-changing experience as an Ethics Center Hackworth Fellow (2005-2006) impressed upon her not only the importance of ethical reflection, but  of transforming thoughts into actions for the greater good. Now the co-founder and co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC -, Fialho says, “The Hackworth Fellowship empowered me to be a social entrepreneur by providing me with an understanding of the deep moral divides in our increasingly globalized world.”

Fialho’s early interest in global ethics and immigration law and her work as a fellow is rooted in two main factors: her parents’ immigration experience, which influenced her from a young age, and working with Center Director of Campus Ethics David DeCosse. Under DeCosses’ mentorship and along with a peer, Andy Western, she co-taught and developed a curriculum for the first Ethics and Globalization course at SCU. “David was one of the first professors to introduce me to applied ethics, not only as a philosophical theory, but also as a framework for developing solutions to some of our country’s major moral issues. He remains one of my dearest mentors to this day,” she comments.

Fialho co-founded CIVIC astonishingly within just a few months of her graduation from Santa Clara University Law School in 2012.  CIVIC works to end immigration detention, and is the only national nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of the multibillion dollar immigration prison industry through weekly detention visits. Fialho and co-founder Christina Mansfield have doubled the organization’s staff in four years and fostered its growth to 1400 volunteers visiting at 43 detention facilities in 19 states. CIVIC’s “Dignity Not Detention Act” was approved by the California State Senate on June 3. This is a groundbreaking measure authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to take a stand against inhumane immigration detention conditions and abolish local government contracting with for-profit immigration detention corporations. (Fialho is quoted in this related Los Angeles Times feature, It's a Nightmare Inside: Bill Would Place New Restrictions on Private Immigrant Detention Centers).

Given Fialho’s many accomplishments while a student at SCU, it’s no surprise that she’s seen her career as a social entrepreneur and activist blossom. As an undergrad, she volunteered with Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. She also completed a one-year academic scholarship at Oxford University as her class’s SCU Honors Program Oxford Scholar, where a paper she wrote on animal ethics heightened her own awareness of animal rights and affected her commitment to being a vegetarian for the last 12 years.

After graduating summa cum laude, Fialho worked in the nonprofit sector for a few years before attending SCU Law.  In law school, she launched the first of its kind Immigration Detention Visitation Program in the East Bay, a pilot project providing humanitarian support for individuals and families in detention. She also worked for the Global Detention Project, where she conducted immigration detention research in the U.S. and Brazil.

Fialho has received many awards, including the 2012 Echoing Green Fellowship for CIVIC's social entrepreneurship, the 2013 Rockwood Fellowship for a New California, and the 2016 Ashoka Fellowship. She blogs for The Huffington Post, serves on the Board for the ACLU of Southern California, and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Married to fellow SCU graduate John P. Rose who is an environmental attorney, Fialho resides in Orange County, CA, and regularly publishes articles in the national and local press on topics ranging from immigrant rights to mental health and sexual assault issues. She also prioritizes finding balance in her life, and makes time to enjoy her hobbies -- hiking and painting. While she never loses sight of her goal of ending immigration detention in the United States, she holds a place in her heart for her SCU past and her experiences at the Ethics Center.

Fialho’s advice for new graduates and those beginning their careers with aspirations toward social entrepreneurship is seemingly simple, but reflects her sophistication both in business and in life. “Never underestimate the value of starting locally, and grow your knowledge and experience from there. What's special about starting from the ground level is the opportunity to relate person to person, which requires empathy," she adds. "And empathy is truly the heart of transformation."