Maine Law Students Provide Legal Aid At Federal Immigration Detention Center In Texas

  • Anna Welch, left, the Refugee and Human Rights Clinical professor at Maine Law, is overseeing Nora Bosworth, right, and nine other students from the law school who are volunteering at a federal detention center in Laredo, Texas.

In response to a sharp increase in immigration arrests in 2017, students from the University of Maine School of Law are stepping up to help immigrant and refugee women held in a federal detention center in Laredo, Texas.

Participating students spend a week volunteering with attorneys and staff of the Laredo Project, a collaboration between Jones Day, the nation’s largest law firm, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Maine Law students Nora Bosworth (’18) and Greta Lozada (’19) have already made one trip to Laredo.

“The women’s stories varied widely, from harrowing stories of trauma and persecution, to more routine accounts of mothers who had been living and working in the U.S. for years and were apprehended by ICE,” Bosworth said.

At the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Laredo, Bosworth and Lozada conducted client intake interviews to connect cases with pro bono attorneys. After the interviews, they wrote memos detailing the women’s stories and explained whether or not they had any potential claims for relief from deportation.

Bosworth and Lozada prepared for the trip to Laredo as student attorneys at Maine Law’s Refugee & Human Rights Clinic. Students in the clinic receive training in immigration law, representing real clients in asylum and other humanitarian-based petitions, under the guidance of Anna Welch, Sam L. Cohen Refugee & Human Rights Clinical Professor.


"The majority of the women fled to the U.S. to escape violence, rape, gang activity, forced labor, extreme poverty, and other horrific circumstances."


“Working with the Laredo Project, our students are able to take the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and through their cases here in Maine, and put them to good use for the women who are being detained in Texas,” Welch said. “The effort reflects the clinic’s dual mission of training future lawyers while engaging in public service.”

“The majority of these women fled to the U.S. to escape violence, rape, gang activity, forced labor, extreme poverty, and other horrific circumstances. We want to help make sure they are treated fairly, and their due process rights are upheld.”

Some of the women that the Maine Law students will assist came to the U.S. recently from crime-ravaged countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Writing about their experiences in Laredo, Bosworth and Lozada provided additional details of the women they worked with:

“Those from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico were frequently escaping gang violence. Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, two international crime syndicates, have enormous influence throughout Central America, while the Los Zetas cartel dominates much of Mexico. These gangs had targeted many of the women we interviewed, and many shared traumatic stories involving rape, the brutalization of loved ones, and forced flight from their homes in the face of credible threats against their lives. Nearly all the women we interviewed had swum across the Rio Grande, the river separating Mexico and the U.S., to arrive in this country. Some women we encountered were additionally scared because they had unwittingly signed orders of voluntary deportation from the U.S., not realizing what they were agreeing to.” 

Other women that Bosworth and Lozada interviewed represent a growing number of detainees who have lived in the U.S. long-term and are being targeted under tougher enforcement guidelines.

“These are people who have been working, paying taxes, and raising children who are U.S. citizens. They were not a priority under the Bush or Obama administrations. But that has changed under President Trump,” Welch said. “Now they are being detained after traffic stops or other routine contact with law enforcement, and they face the very real threat of deportation and separation from their families.”

ICE has made 110,568 arrests between January 20 and Sept. 30, 2017, a 42 percent increase over the same period in 2016.

A total of 10 students enrolled in Maine Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic are participating in the effort.  Other Maine Law students involved in the project are Joann Bautista, Eric Benson, Katie Bressler, Sara Cressey, Hanni Pastinen, Christiana Rein, Noel Sidorek and Jeremy Williams. More students will travel to Laredo this month.

“Our time in Laredo was deeply educational, with the vividness that only hands-on work can bring,” Bosworth and Lozada wrote. “We are both so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Laredo Project, which is the only pro bono legal project dedicated to the Laredo Detention Center. Without the help of the Laredo Project and its volunteers, many of the women would face nearly automatic deportation back to the countries they fled.”


Related articles:

Law Class Of 2017 Contributed $81M Worth Of Pro Bono Legal Services

$1M grant to Loyola Law used to assist LA's foster youth

Legal Analytics Lab explores the intersection of business, big data and law


Tyler Roberts is an editor for The National Jurist. You can follow him on Twitter at @wtylrroberts