Sunday, February 17, 2019
Prof. Hillary Farber is spending her sabbatical at the Southwest Border. She sends us the first of her reflections on work with detained immigrants.
Just a bit of background: I have always thought of being a lawyer as a tool to help people. I went to law school to be a public defender and thought I would do that work for a very long time. Opportunities eventually took me in a different direction and, over the years of my teaching career, I have felt this tool becoming blunt. After this last presidential election, it became clear to me that my sabbatical was a moment in time to dive back into the fight for justice that motivated my whole legal career.
I was compelled to go where the need is great and the resources for legal assistance are scarce which led me to this fabulous organization – The Florence Immigrant Refugee and Representation Project. https://firrp.org. The Florence Project provides free legal and social services to detained adults and unaccompanied children facing removal proceedings in immigration court in Arizona. Here, smart and dedicated people are speaking truth to power, and pursuing every legal avenue to seek justice for their clients. They are on the front lines of the family separation crisis and provide legal orientations for thousands of men, women and kids in detention.
I am not an immigration lawyer, and before coming here I was not schooled in immigration law. What I often tell people is that I know how to argue to get people out of jail. I also feel very comfortable in a courtroom, and going in and out of jails and prisons to work with my clients. So there are some transferable skills but my learning curve is huge. It humbles me and reminds me daily of the path my students are on, learning the law and trying it out for the first time.
These past four weeks have exceeded my expectations. My commitment to bring humanity to this migration struggle has deepened, as has my admiration for all the people here and around the country doing this work every day. I am here bearing witness and diving in to advocate for those whose voices and stories need to be told. Whether it is the family waiting at the border in Mexico to come into the United States or the young man who heroically fled his native country from gang violence and extortion only to be detained by ICE and held in a detention facility without bond – these stories need to be told and people’s voices heard.
So I am not leaving here until my tools are sharpened and I have helped as many people as time will allow. My resolve is strong and the opportunities are abundant.