/ Blog Post
My Impact is a conversation series from Equal Justice Works, using interviews with alumni to shine a light on what’s possible with an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. In honor of World Day Against Human Trafficking, National Advisory Committee Member and rising 3L at Golden Gate State University School of Law Xavier Torres de Janon spoke with Rebeca Garcia Gil, a 2018 Fellow hosted by the University of Maryland (UMD) SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors. Rebeca currently works as an immigration staff attorney at the UMD Safe Center.
Rebeca Garcia Gil is acutely aware of the important role that immigration law can play in a person’s life. In 2010, she immigrated to the United States as an international student and struggled with “culture shock, with homesickness, with a lot of very emotional things,” that come with moving to a new country. To cope with the adjustment, Rebeca found support in the immigrant community in her college town—they helped her “find a sense of identity” and feel “more connected to home.” As she learned more about the unique legal challenges that other immigrants faced in her community, she was inspired to spend a semester working in an immigration clinic. It is here that she discovered her passion for advocacy and assisting people who have endured hardship because of their immigration status.
In 2018, Rebeca was selected as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps. As a Fellow at the University of Maryland (UMD), SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, Rebeca represented survivors of sex and labor trafficking in immigration. “It was a very unique opportunity of marrying immigration law with anti-trafficking work and crime victims’ rights advocacy,” noted Rebeca on how the Fellowship allowed her to explore different issue areas.
As a member of the Crime Victims Justice Corps, Rebeca was able to leverage the expertise of other Fellows and the connections she made throughout the two-year Fellowship. “Being able to learn from people who are doing the exact same work as you’re doing has been amazing,” she remarked. “It’s been a wonderful community and just a great resource to have. In addition to also meeting people from a similar background, I’ve met other Latina lawyers and other people who also come from immigrant families.”
It has been a work in progress to figure out what self-care means to me; what healthy boundaries are. And I often have to remind myself that I need to be in a good place in order to effectively and zealously advocate for my clients.
Rebeca Garcia Gil /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Rebeca also discussed the toll of being regularly exposed to human-induced trauma and how it is something that she continues to deal with as an advocate in the crime victims’ rights space. “The reality of working full time with a heavily traumatized population really took a toll on me and on my mental health,” said Rebeca. “It has been a work in progress to figure out what self-care means to me; what healthy boundaries are. And I often have to remind myself that I need to be in a good place in order to effectively and zealously advocate for my clients.” She stressed the importance of others working in trauma-heavy settings to protect themselves against compassion fatigue, because “healthy boundaries are extremely important if you want to do this kind of work in the long term.”
In addition to speaking about her Fellowship experience, Rebeca shared ways in which advocates can support survivors of human trafficking. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of really harmful stereotypes and misinformation going around, so I think the first step is helping human trafficking organizations to get good information out there,” Rebeca recommended. She encouraged public interest attorneys and law students to reach out to their local anti-trafficking organizations and offer up their expertise. “Even if they don’t have a case for you right now, I’m sure something will come up in the future.”
Following her Fellowship, Rebeca continues to work at the UMD SAFE Center as an immigration staff attorney, much like the 85% of Equal Justice Works Fellows who remain in public service after their Fellowships end.
For more about Rebeca’s time as a Fellow and the work she has done to help human trafficking survivors receive the proper legal assistance to rebuild their lives, watch the full interview here.
To learn more about kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow, visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!