Monday Morning Message 5.6.19 Yearning To Breathe Free

Posted 2019-05-06 9:08am

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” -Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, inscribed on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty 

On this day in 1940, John Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. It's the story of a poor Midwestern migrant farming family fighting to keep their family intact. They were not immigrants. They were migrants from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl who had come to California when drought made their lives as farmers impossible.

Eighty years later, the situations and experiences are much the same, but the people are no longer native-born Americans but illegal immigrants from Central America escaping persecution. It is a story that can inspire us to recognize the historic nature of the moment in which we live.

Our mission is “Learn Law. Live Justice.” We try to give our students experiential opportunities to understand the difference that lawyers can make in the lives of real people at critical moments when social justice calls for a response.

Over spring break, Ashlynn Rotta ’19, President of the C|M|LAW Hispanic Law Students Association (HLSA), and Brandilyn Cook ‘18, immediate past President of HLSA, organized a field trip for some of our law students to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, the largest family-detention center in the United States, just 75 miles from the Texas-Mexico border.

Their mission was to assist families seeking asylum in the United States.

Brandilyn and Danielle Limon’18 served as the managing attorneys with a student group of four 1Ls -Vanessa Gomez, Anita Davenport, Jerrell Scott, and Janaya Hanson- and one 3L - Brenden Carlin’19.

Dilley only accepts mothers with children and doesn’t take people with criminal records. Most of the women our students met with had journeyed thousands of miles to cross the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum in the United States from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador. Many had come to save themselves and their children from extreme poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and violence.

If an immigrant expresses a fear of returning to his or her home country, they are referred for an interview with an asylum officer. For immigrants in detention who are fleeing persecution, the “credible or reasonable fear interview” is crucial. Without a positive determination, that immigrant will be deported from the U.S. and unable to apply for protection from persecution.

Our students prepared asylum-seeking women and children for their “credible or reasonable fear interviews” before an asylum officer, which is the first step of many in an asylum case which could ultimately last years. During the interview, the asylum officer determines whether the detainee has real reason to fear persecution or torture if returned to their home country.

Brandilyn Cook noted, “Asylum work is mentally and emotionally grueling, especially under these circumstances. We worked 12-14 hour days with a talented group of volunteers in our effort to provide support where we could… our students’ willingness to listen to dozens of traumatic stories from clients who do not speak English, and pitching in wherever they could was truly inspirational.”

The stories these women shared were some of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever encountered…I gained the confidence to interview the clients and develop questions that would help establish their claim for asylum.” Jerrell Scott, 1L 

As the daughter of Dominican immigrants, the trip reminded me of the reason my parents came to this country and brought me back to my why. This country represents many great things for different people. As victims of religious, political, racial, and other forms of persecution, the United States represents a safe place where diversity is celebrated for the clients we saw throughout the week.” -Vanessa Gomez, 1L

My experience volunteering in Dilley, Texas is one that I will never forget. It provided me an opportunity to learn about asylum immigration law, while being an active advocate for families that have experienced horrible acts of violence. The workdays at the center were long, often 12 hours or more, but helping families navigate successfully through the beginning stages of the asylum process was well worth the sacrifice.” Anita Davenport, 1L

I have a better understanding of the plight of asylum seekers and I look forward to going back to Dilly to aid them in whatever way I can….What will you tell future generations when they ask what you did about the humanitarian crisis at the border?”  -Brenden Carlin ‘19

Just another example of how our students and our graduates learn law and live justice.

This Week’s Monday Moment:   How Does the US Refugee System Work?

Have a great day. Have a great week.

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My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our law school or our university.

My best,


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