2008 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Michelle Mendez
Name of Host Organization: Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services
City, State: Silver Spring, Maryland
Issue area: Immigrant Populations, Civil Rights/Civil Liberties,Immigration Law Reform
Sponsors: DLA Piper
My project will provide representation to immigrants in removal proceedings on account of civil rights violations on the part of local police and ICE agents. The project seeks to educate immigrant families, many of which have mixed immigration status, on their legal rights and how to protect themselves in case of immigration enforcement threatening to separate them. Finally, the project will work with local law enforcement agencies to maintain/develop immigrant friendly policies and convince these agencies to solely focus on enforcing state criminal law.
As a Colombian emigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, I have seen glimpses of my mother's own hard work ethic and love for this country in so many of the immigrant clients with whom I have worked. Additionally, the writings, teachings and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - my very first hero - have always been a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
Making the connection:
Working at the CAIR Coalition post-9/11 solidified my desire to attend law school and become an immigrants' rights attorney. There, I witnessed the unjust reality facing immigrants such as our government’s indiscriminate round-up of Muslim-Americans, which eerily mirrored the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This experience both sparked my interest in immigrants’ rights and introduced me to the Equal Justice Works Fellowship program.
Surviving law school:
In order to survive law school, I surrounded myself with like-minded peers; took courses that focused on social justice; established relationships with public interest professors; joined the Maryland Public Interest Law Project; interned for organizations promoting social justice for immigrants; and applied for as many public interest grants as possible.
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho teaches us true happiness is following your heart; A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela inspires, especially those working for social justice; Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich gives a realistic account of how difficult it is to survive as a low-wage worker in American society and provides concrete examples as to why socio-economic justice should be a goal for our country.
http://bibdaily.com/: Bender's Immigration Bulletin
http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/: The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan