Law Students Travel to South to Help Detained Immigrants

When one thinks of traveling for a cause or volunteering, the Peace Corps is usually the first organization to pop into your mind: trips to large-scale and long trips to far-away places with despicable conditions. It can be equally powerful, however, to help those close to home.

Laura Shaw and Amber Attalla, both law students, left on Saturday to be the first legal representative of Maine to travel to the Southwest and combat the wave of humanitarian crises that has been central during recent debates. The Refugee and Human Rights Clinic organized the trip.

The Refugee and Human Rights Clinic of the University of Maine School of Law allows students student attorneys to help low-income immigrants. Their clients include asylum applicants, abandoned or abused children, immigrant survivors of domestic violence and any immigrant seeking legal status in the U.S.

Laura Shaw is a third-year law student from Gorham and Amber Attalla a second-year student of Amherst, New Hampshire. They women raised $2500 from family, friends, local law firms, fellow law students and funding from the Student Bar Association at Maine Law to cover their expenses. They’ll be documenting their experience in a blog here.

They’re not the first legal volunteers to respond to the crisis in the south. Other attorneys such as Helen Lawrence from San Francisco Bay Area have also made the journey. In her blog about the trip, Lawrence wrote that “There are no legal services in Artesia. Apart from these three individuals [who she had traveled with], the only legal representation detainees have is the small teams of immigration attorneys who take turns to fly in each week.”

They’ll be working at the Artesia Center in southeastern New Mexico, located in the town after which it was named around 179 miles from El Paso, Texas.

The Artesia Center is facing an incredible amount of due process violations, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other legal organizations. Immigrants are forced to defend their cases without the help of legal counsel. Some are children, even toddlers.

In response to the massive oversight, lawyers and law students from around the country are converging at Artesia to offer free legal help to those detained there. Last month, Reuters reported that detention centers such as Artesia were made to discourage another immigrant wave. Children often travel March through June, either alone or with parents, in an attempt to find home in the United States.