Scenes from immigrant detention centers at the border of the U.S. and Mexico hit home for Amitay Flores.
Children separated from their parents and crammed in tight cells, sometimes sleeping on cement floors. Unsanitary conditions that don’t permit a clean place to change a diaper or wash a bottle. Cold temperatures that leave those locked up prone to the flu and other illnesses. The troubling situation in photos flashed in news stories about the immigration crisis left Flores feeling helpless and angry.
Flores, a second-year student at the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, could easily picture her own family behind the chain-linked fences had circumstances played out differently at the time her parents arrived in the U.S. from Mexico years ago. So, as the debate over detaining immigrants in ICE facilities continued on the political stage nationwide, she sought a way to make a difference.
Her passion to help those in dire circumstances inspired Flores to raise money for the Student Immigration Law Association to send a group of law students to the border in spring 2020 and offer assistance to those held at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas. Ten students along with U professors Melissa Moeinvaziri BA’12 HBA’12 JD’17 and RonNell Andersen Jones offered services to many housed in the 1,904-person facility for a week, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the country down temporarily.
Students were mentored by their professors and licensed attorneys to provide a range of assistance to immigrants who were representing themselves in asylum proceedings. They partnered with the nonprofit American Gateways, which connected them to immigrants in need.
“I believe law students have a crucial role to play in tearing down these barriers and assisting immigrants to apply for relief from detention,” says Flores, who aspires to practice immigration law. “I look forward to the day when the United States government stops placing immigrants in detention. Until then, I will continue to do everything in my power to serve those who come to our country looking for a better future.”
Read more about efforts to help at the border.