UW Law students supported newly arrived immigrants in San Diego during spring break, gaining Insights in immigration law and building empathy at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hundreds of immigrants are dropped off each day by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Iris Avenue Transit Center in San Diego, CA, three miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Most have been detained for days, if not weeks, and are disoriented upon arriving at the bus station.

During spring break, six UW Law students and one professor, Immigration Law Clinic director Georgina Olazcon Mozo, flew to southern California to assist new arrivals with the challenges they face upon entry to the United States, including: traversing the transit system, reconnecting with family members and needing translation services.

Find out more about how UW Law students supported this vulnerable population of people, while also strengthening their compassion and empathy skills that they will need in becoming successful lawyers.


Read the Transcript

Georgina Olazcon Mozo: Right now, there's this chaos with, like, literally hundreds of people are being released by border patrol in San Diego, just in the middle of nowhere.

Vivian Hernandez: And the majority of the people would get released or get out of the bus and the first question they would ask is, “What state am I in?”

GOM: They don't speak the language. They don't know where they are. When they are being released, they are disoriented.

Francis Kumah: We are talking about almost getting to thousands of people being dumped, and how are they being supported?

GOM: The planning started a few weeks before we went to San Diego, meeting with the students, with the host organization and getting plans about what we were going to do in San Diego.

VH: And we're really just at a bus station, waiting for people to be released into a bus station that, you know, doesn't even get to the airport.

FK: At that point, the person doesn't have a phone to call. At that point, the person doesn't have internet to communicate to anybody.

GOM: So, a lot of the work that our students had to do is receive people, talk about their rights, how they could be transported to other places where they could either catch a plane, or a train, or a bus to their next destination.

VH: One day, it was 10 p.m. We really wanted to make sure that if we were there, you know, for a week we could sacrifice a few hours of sleep to make sure that someone wasn't left stranded in the middle of a bus station. Every person that was released had a different story, a different need.

GOM: Some people we needed to help them reunite with their families when they were separated.

VH: Some of them had been detained for 20 days with their families not knowing what state they were being detained in.

FK: Some also traveled by sea with a small boat. That boat can easily capsize.

GOM: So, it's really more of a crisis control. It's really literally chaos and crisis.

FK: The more you feel touching to help, the more you feel attached to them. You feel more to go the extra mile to ensure that they get where they need to get to.

VH: I met two siblings that are from the same town as my dad in Colombia. And they are my same age, worked throughout every country so they could, you know, pay for their stay in those countries and be able to come to the U.S. I admire them so much. I admire their sibling relationships so much, I immediately called my brother sobbing that night.

FK: We are also lawyers trying to learn more, so we appreciate what they go through. So, it was a learning process for us as well.

VH: There is a client on the other end. It's not just theories that we're learning in class. It's not just a debate.

GOM: They can take that experience in their own lawyering in the future to become more compassionate attorneys.