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St. John’s Law Hosts March for Justice Program on Immigration Policy

On Monday, March 20, 2017, St. John’s Public Interest Center and Coalition for Social Justice hosted program titled “Families, Neighbors, Refugees: How New Immigration Policies Impact Our Community.”

The program featured two experts in the field: Sharone Schwartz-Kaufman, managing attorney for immigration at Catholic Migration Services and director of St. John’s Bread and Life Immigration Clinic, and C. Mario Russell, director of immigrant and refugee services for Catholic Charities of New York, who oversees St. John’s Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic. They discussed the impact of mass deportations on communities, addressed issues of restrictions on immigration and readmission for those with green cards, and provided information on how law students can help those affected by the executive orders on immigration. 

The program attendees also heard from Laura Garcia, who shared her story as a young immigrant living undocumented before being granted temporary status under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Garcia is the racial justice program manager for YWCA Orange County. In that role she oversees a portfolio of programs addressing immigrant rights. As an activist supporting the Latino, undocumented, and migrant community in the Hudson Valley, she has founded Dreamers with No Borders, coordinates Mujeres Latinas of the Hudson Valley, and serves on the board of directors for the Rural and Migrant Ministry, among other activities.

St. John’s Law presented this timely program as a participant in March for Justice, a series of events held at law schools throughout New York this month to address access to justice and democratic participation issues.

During his tenure as Chief Judge of the State of New York, Hon. Jonathan Lippman '13HON brought attention to a wide “justice gap” that leaves millions of low-income New Yorkers and people across the country without the professional help they need to face serious legal challenges. Along with leaders in the field of social justice, he called on law schools to act as agents of change through efforts aimed at making legal services and the courts more accessible to all.

With this call to action, the Statewide Law School Access-to-Justice Council was created in 2012 to promote increased coordination and communication among New York’s 15 law schools on access-to-justice issues. The Council, in turn, launched March for Justice this year in response to recent developments that have increased civic engagement among law students.

“Our March for Justice event drew 60 attendees for an important conversation about immigration policy in today’s social and political climate,” says Professor Ann L. Goldweber, the Public Interest Center’s co-director and the Law School’s director of clinical legal education. “This program, and the suite of March for Justice offerings across New York, are very much in alignment with the mission of our center, which sponsors a range of programs and activities that promote the professional obligation that lawyers have to serve those most in need.”

Helping the needy, the voiceless, and the disenfranchised is also central to St. John’s Vincentian mission, notes Professor Gina M. Calabrese, co-director of the Public Interest Center and associate director of St. John’s Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic. “The speakers we brought in for our March to Justice program are on the front line every day advocating for New York City’s vulnerable immigrant community,” she says. “Many St. John’s law students are sons and daughters of hard-working immigrants, and they found this candid discussion particularly relevant and meaningful.”

Reflecting on the program, Anjelica Mantikas '18, the Public Interest Center’s student executive director, says: "Law students, myself included, have a desire to fight for immigrants' rights, but we didn’t know how to get involved. The March to Justice event definitely provided the solution. It was a mix of learning the law, humanizing the immigrant story, and providing information on the many ways students can get involved. By the end of it, so many of us felt empowered to take action because we have the ability to do so. My hope is that more students will volunteer for legal services organizations, participate in the immigration clinics, and get involved in Public Interest Center volunteer opportunities in the immigrant rights field."

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