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Teresa Smith Receives National Pro Bono Publico Award

April 18, 2019

Lewis & Clark Law School student Teresa Smith, 3L, was recently named the national 2019 Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, recognizing Smith’s exceptional pro bono contributions to the community. The Public Service Jobs Directory (PSJD), a free online clearinghouse for law students and lawyers to connect with public interest job listings, presents the award annually.

“I have been lucky enough to hold a variety of public interest positions where I have been able to advocate alongside people with disabilities, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness,” Smith said. “All these experiences eventually inspired me to go to law school, where I have been focusing on the intersections of immigration, employment, and environmental justice.”

Growing up in a small agricultural community, Smith was exposed early on to the inequalities faced by migrant, seasonal, and temporary farmworkers. She was inspired to become an advocate for underrepresented groups, especially immigrant communities.

Every year in law school, Smith fund-raised and self-funded volunteer trips to detention facilities in Dilley and Karnes, Texas as well as the border point of entry in Tijuana, Mexico. Traveling during her vacations, she worked with the CARA pro bono project in Dilley, Texas, RAICES in Karnes Texas, and Al Otro Lado in Tijuana, Mexico.  

“My passion for immigrants’ rights began years ago, but was reinforced the first time I stepped foot in an immigrant detention center as an undergraduate volunteer,” explained Smith. “This experience was one of the defining moments that has inspired me to be a zealous advocate for underrepresented communities. It also emphasized for me the power that legal representation or assistance can have on an individual.”

In Karnes, Teresa spent the week before Christmas working 10-hour days assisting women and children. Using her Spanish and Portuguese language skills, she listened to the often tragic stories, explained the law, and prepared the women for their credible fear interviews, the first step on the path to asylum.

Alum Kate Edwards JD’17, who supervised Smith at Karnes, described Smith’s work. “I teamed up with her to represent a woman from Angola who had suffered extreme violence by the Angolan government. We attended the client’s credible fear interview together to advocate on her behalf. The client seemed to trust Teresa almost immediately when we first met with her. The client ended up getting a positive decision, and I credit Teresa with patiently helping her to tell her traumatic and difficult story.”

Smith has also been a leader at the law school. As the Immigration Student Group (ISG) Director this year, Teresa has been responsible for raising money for additional students to travel to the detention centers. She has also served as a Communications Chair for the National Food Law Student Network and, with the help of two of her classmates, launched the Food & Agriculture Law Society (FALS) at Lewis & Clark Law School.

In addition to her work at the border and the law school, Smith volunteered with the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project at the MLK Jr. Worker Center, and served as a Laurel Rubin Farm Worker Justice Intern based in Yakima, WA. As a volunteer with the Innovation Law Lab in Portland, she provided bond and parole request support for immigrants.

Most recently, when approximately 120 asylum seekers were transferred to a federal prison in Oregon, Smith volunteered several days per week answering a hotline for detainees, interviewing and translating for a Portuguese speaker, and advocating for their right to access legal representation.

Smith sums up her accomplishments this way. “I know, through determination and zealous advocacy, I will be able to help advocate alongside immigrant communities that contribute to the souls of our communities. I also hope that after I graduate I will have left an infrastructure in place that allows other law students to pursue immigration and related advocacy in conjunction with their legal studies.”

“We congratulate Teresa on this well-deserved award,” said Dean Jennifer Johnson. “Many of our students volunteer and work as public interest interns, but Teresa stands out for the breadth of her actions and the impact she has made as a result.”

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