posted Jun 05, 2017

International Human Rights Clinic: Making the fight for justice visible

This spring, students in the International Human Rights (IHR) Clinic had the unique opportunity to participate in the U.S hearings at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. In Washington, D.C., students prepared their client, Maru Mora Villapando, to present in the public hearing, “Impact of Executive Orders on Human Rights in the United States.”

“I am undocumented, unafraid and I refuse to return to the shadows. We need to resist the seizure of our rights with courage, knowing the enhanced risks of deportation and retaliation for doing so.” Maru Mora Villalpando

A community organizer and social activist, Villalpando works to end the detention of immigrants and advocates for the rights of those held at the detention center in Tacoma. The IHR Clinic, which has been advising Villalpando and her organization, Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) Resistance, this academic year, worked to identify international legal avenues to bring attention to her cause.

After having a formal meeting with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in San Diego and submitting a follow-up shadow report, the clinic received word in March that their request for a public hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the NWDC was granted.

In preparation for the March 21 hearing, clinic students prepared Villalpando to speak on behalf of people detained at the NWDC with a focus on the potential expansion of immigration detention facilities through contracts with private corporations.

“We worked non-stop drafting Maru’s speech and prepared for the hearing within a short period of time,” said IHR Clinic student MariaJose Cordero. “This was by far one of the best experiences I have had, and I am very proud of our team’s work.”

“It has been a great experience working with Maru and the NWDC Resistance during winter and spring quarter. Under the guidance of Professor Gonza, my colleagues and I have been able to engage and learn about community lawyering and how to empower our client.” MariaJose Cordero

The clinic team’s main goal in representing Villalpando and the NWDC Resistance was to bring a direct voice of the undocumented community to the most prominent international human rights forum.

“This public hearing was important because it allowed people directly impacted by the executive orders such as Maru Mora Villalpando and the NWDC Resistance community to be heard, and to raise international concerns about this critical situation,” said Marina Gallon, an IHR Clinic student.

Alejandra Gonza, director of the clinic, was thrilled to see the team developing client-centered lawyering skills. “The students grew a deep understanding of the role of an attorney within a bigger community movement, and respected our client as the primary decision maker. They were able to put into practice so many different skills, and I’ve seen them transform from outstanding law students to problem -solving minded lawyers.”