I first went to Dilley during spring break of my 1L year as part of the inaugural Fordham volunteer trip. I was interested in immigration law issues generally and hungry for real-world application of what I was learning in the classroom but did not know at the time how much that first trip would shape the rest of my law school experience. The bonds that I formed with my fellow student volunteers and the Feerick Center staff left me yearning to stay engaged in the world of family detention. At the end of the year, Emerson Argueta and I were chosen as co-chairs of the Immigration Advocacy Project, a student-led campus advocacy group. The Immigration Advocacy Project has been the source of so much pride and joy throughout my law school career. Over the next two years as part of the board, we were able to bring in a wide range of speakers on subjects including issues in family detention, the travel bans, and the life of an immigration lawyer. We organized three trips per year to the Dilley detention facility, sending dozens of law students to volunteer on the ground. I returned to Dilley in January of my 2L year and was reminded once more of the necessity of the work and the brilliance and compassion of the advocacy community surrounding family detention.
In Dilley, students learn the importance of witnessing the atrocity of family detention and of spreading the word about this relatively unknown American practice. Upon return, I was given the opportunity to speak to the New York City Bar Association at a program titled “Central American Crises and Women and Children in Detention,” which highlighted the role of lawyers and law students in addressing the access-to-justice issues that are implicated. I have also been able to present our work in Dilley to countless Fordham alumni, professors, graduate students from the school of social work, and other law students. Sharing our experience with our clients and the advocates on the ground has been a distinct honor.
It became clear after my first trip to Dilley that it was imperative that I take classes to enhance my understanding of the law as it relates to asylum seekers and immigration. I enrolled in classes including Immigration Law, Emergency and the Rule of Law, Complex Litigation, National Security Law, and Criminal Procedure to further this aim. I applied to be the research assistant for Professor Jennifer Gordon, who teaches Immigration Law, and was able to work with her on an article that she wrote on the sources of constitutional immigration powers. It was powerful to be able to root our work in Dilley in larger legal frameworks and understand the history of immigration law. I also joined the Legislative and Policy Advocacy Clinic in order to understand how policy is created and developed in real settings. I sought to gain the practical skills that would be necessary to evoke change in immigration policy, with Dilley always at the forefront of my mind. The trajectory of my law school career would have been vastly different if it weren’t for the trip to Dilley during my 1L year.