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Pro Bono Work in Texas

April 07, 2015

Most law student spend spring break focusing on research, getting ahead on their classwork, or taking a much-needed vacation. Four L&C law students spent their break in an immigration detention center in tiny Dilly, Texas, 90 miles from the Mexican border assisting mothers and their children from Central America who are seeking asylum in the U.S. Juliann Peebles, Isabella Fernandez, Leland Baxter-Neal, Rodrigo Juarez, and Professor Stephen Manning met with these immigrants who are currently being detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest family immigration detention center ever built, in Dilley, TX. Most of the people there are seeking asylum from gang-based and gender-based persecution and violence. The law students and professor Manning were there to prepare detainees for their bond hearings and asylum cases.

Peebles said the experience was life changing, “It was an honor to be a part of a legal team that served as a beacon of hope for the refugee women and children. We tried to empower the women with the skills they needed to assert their legal rights and advocate for themselves. Having the experience in Dilley reaffirmed my commitment to becoming a lawyer who represents people who need it most. More people need to stand up and be a voice for the many voices of refugee women and children.”

All of the students who took the trip to Dilley are founders of the new Immigration Student Group and are enrolled in the Transformative Immigration Law Seminar, taught by Manning. Not only did the group prepare the asylum-seeking mothers for credible fear interviews and bond hearings, they worked shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteer immigration attorneys who are part of a national effort to provide effective legal representation where none was available.

Baxter-Neal said, “I came to law school because I wanted to empower myself to act for what I believe in. The trip to Dilley gave me the opportunity to step into a situation where legal services were desperately needed, and I was able to apply the things I’ve learned in school to help these incredibly brave and strong women. I came away from the experience amazed at how easy it can be to truly be of service and to use my legal skills to make a difference.”

A second Lewis & Clark legal brigade of 8 to 10 students will travel to Dilley with Professor Juliet Stumpf in May.

Dave Miller of OPB’s Think Out Loud interviewed law students Peebles, Juárez, and Manning about the experience.

Here’s part of JD student Rodrigo Juárez, Jr.’s personal account of the trip:

Welcome to Dilley: Home of the Largest Family Detention Center in the World

“Our group awakened at 6:00 AM every day in order to be in the detention center by 7:00. Usually, the only people moving about the hotel complex were the frackers coming off a night shift. 7:00 AM was the plan. Mornings, unfortunately for us, were the time detention workers changed shifts. Therefore, whilst the workers went through the metal detector and clocked in, the legal team was forced to anxiously wait, regardless of fast approaching court appearances.”

Read more of JD student Rodrigo Juárez, Jr.’s personal account of the trip.

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