Student Perspective: Supporting the Transnational Fight to Protect Workers’ Rights

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Posted by Lily Axelrod, JD ’15

One January afternoon in 2012, two hundred men and women gathered at the Captain Morgan Bar in the sunny, Mexican coastal town of Topolobampo, Sinaloa. Their spirits were strong; recruiters had arrived to sign up workers for temporary H-2 visas to the United States. In a region where unemployment is high and the minimum wage is less than $5 a day, the recruiters brought hope. Applicants handed over deposits of several hundred dollars, representing years of savings or serious debt.

Weeks went by, and then months, as recruiters promised the Sinaloans that the visas were “almost ready.” But there were no jobs, and no H-2 visas. By April, it became clear: hundreds of applicants had been defrauded.

This summer, I had the opportunity to support the Sinaloan workers as a fellow with Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC), a human rights organization based in Mexico City. Having lived in Mexico and studied social movements there, I was drawn to ProDESC’s model, which balances a broad international vision with a focus on meaningful participation and leadership from local, marginalized communities. I contributed this summer to the organization’s Transnational Justice for Migrant Workers project, which seeks to promote humane, legal migration by protecting migrant workers’ human rights.

My work focused specifically on the H-2 temporary worker visa program, one of the few avenues for Mexicans to work legally in the United States without advanced degrees or immediate family members with status. ProDESC has been tackling abuses related to the program since 2007. Due to fear of reporting and lack of oversight, it is impossible to know how many applicants were promised visas and never received them, but ProDESC believes the problem is widespread. Even when job offers are legitimate, workers often go into debt to pay illegal “recruitment fees,” and fear blacklisting or violent retaliation if they speak up about their rights.

For years, both the Mexican and American governments turned a blind eye to these abuses, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation, human trafficking, and forced labor. But ProDESC and the Sinaloan workers have been collaborating to change the status quo. In 2013, with support from ProDESC’s community organizers and attorneys, the workers formed a coalition and brought a groundbreaking collective criminal complaint against the fraudulent recruiter operating in Sinaloa. That coalition, in turn, strengthened ProDESC’s domestic and international policy advocacy to prevent abuse in the H-2 visa program overall.

Together, their activism captured the attention of both the Mexican government, which recently issued new regulations targeting recruiters, and the U.S. Departments of Labor and State, which have committed to cooperate with their Mexican counterparts and with NGOs to educate migrant workers about their rights.

With attention turning now to implementation of Mexico’s new recruitment regulations, I worked under the guidance of ProDESC Director Alejandra Ancheita (Harvard Wasserstein Fellow 2012-13) this summer to draft a policy memorandum requested by Mexico’s Secretary for Labor and Social Welfare. The memo, now published in English and Spanish, was co-authored with undergraduate intern Mica Pacheco Ceballos (Harvard ’16) and with support from Fordham Law Professor Jennifer Gordon, JD ’92.

I also conducted research on creative legal strategies to hold American companies accountable for their recruiters’ human rights violations. ProDESC’s attorneys consistently challenged me to think outside the box and draw from diverse fields, from international human rights law to contracts and negotiation.

In my last week at ProDESC, the mood at the office was jubilant: the Mexican government had considered the Sinaloan case, and imposed a substantial fine on the fraudulent recruiting agency for violations of the Federal Labor Law and related regulations. Still, it will take significant additional work to ensure that the rights of other workers seeking H-2 visas are truly protected. Now that the Mexican and American governments have committed to taking this issue seriously, ProDESC and its allies are pushing for both governments to work together to hold U.S. companies accountable for abuses in recruitment.

Learn more about how to support that movement at ProDESC’s website or follow through work on Facebook.

Lily S. Axelrod, JD ‘15, is Co-President of the Harvard Immigration Project and Review Editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review. After graduation, she plans to practice immigration law.

Legal Services Center announces leadership transition

Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, Faculty Director of WilmerHale Legal Services Center

aniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, Faculty Director of WilmerHale Legal Services Center

Via HLS News 

Harvard Law School’s WilmerHale Legal Services Center—one of the leading providers of legal aid in Greater Boston and surrounding communities—has announced that Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, will be its Faculty Director.

Nagin succeeds Clinical Professor of Law Robert Greenwald, who has served as the director of LSC since 2009, and will devote his time fully to his health policy work as Faculty Director of the law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, which will house both the law school’s health and food law and policy clinics.

“The Legal Services Center tackles essential needs in the Greater Boston community while offering students opportunities to serve to learn from talented and dedicated staff,” said Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School. “Robert Greenwald’s inspired leadership has strengthened and deepened the Center’s outstanding community collaborations. He has led staff and students in their work on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse, people facing eviction and predatory lending, and individuals seeking disability benefits and health care. Robert has at the same time built our nationally recognized center and clinic on health law and policy innovation to which he will now devote his full-time leadership.

“We are so lucky that his successor is Dan Nagin, an award-winning advocate, inspired teacher, and leader in clinical legal education,” Minow added. “Dan has long worked to expand access to quality legal services for persons who are homeless, poor, or disabled and he recently created the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic at the Center. It is a privilege to watch how the vision and tireless efforts of these lawyers advance justice and inspire the next generation of lawyers.”

Read the full article here

Alumni Profiles: Professor Luz E. Herrera ’99

Luz E. Herrera, HLS J.D. '99

Luz E. Herrera, HLS J.D. ’99

Professor Luz E. Herrera, HLS J.D. ’99, is Assistant Dean for Clinical Education, Experiential Learning, and Public Service at the UCLA School of Law. Prior to this appointment, she was Assistant Professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she directed the Small Business Law Center (SBLC) – a clinical program that provides legal services to nonprofits and public spirited entrepreneurs and she helped found the Center for Solo Practitioners, a program to help graduates understand how to establish and run their own law firms to serve underserved populations. She was also a Visiting Clinical Professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law, where she taught students in the Consumer Protection and the Community Economic Development clinics.

Her scholarship focuses on helping young lawyers in their effort to launch their own law practice and provide assistance to traditionally underserved communities. Professor Herrera has written many articles on this matter including, Training Lawyer Entrepreneurs, Rethinking Private Attorney Involvement Through a ‘Low Bono’ Lens, and Educating Main Street Lawyers. Her research and ideas seek to address the access to civil justice gap and call for an inclusive response to the needs of both clients and legal service providers.

In May of 2002, she opened her own practice to help her community members in the Compton community of Los Angeles, in the area of family law, estate planning, real estate and business transactions. In 2005 she also founded Community Lawyers, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides affordable legal services to underserved communities. And from 2006 to 2007, she returned to Harvard Law School to work as a Senior Clinical Fellow, supervising students in the Community Enterprise Project (CEP) at the Legal Services Center – a clinic where she also worked as a Harvard Law student.

When asked what advice she would give to current students, Professor Herrera said “I’d encourage them to be introspective about how their personal story and life experiences contribute to the law. They may find fulfilling opportunities in places and settings they may have never expected or know about.”

“My own career as a solo practitioner in an underserved community was fulfilling. It allowed me to advance my interest in helping those who didn’t have the money to hire lawyers at market rates, to use my language skills in a professional setting and to learn to advocate for a more inclusive public service agenda.”

Student Perspective: Protecting Freedom of Expression, in Ethiopia and Beyond

reeyot-AlemuVia the International Human Rights Clinic 

Posted by Lindsay Church, J.D. ’16

In July 2012, Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2011, Reeyot Alemu was arrested and convicted to 14 years of imprisonment, reduced to five on appeal.

Their crimes? Practicing journalism in Ethiopia.

Nega and Alemu are award-winning journalists who shared the prestigious Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Award in 2012. For Nega, whose first child was born while he and his wife were in custody for treason , the arrest came days after publishing a column that criticized the Ethiopian government’s detainment of journalists as suspected terrorists. For Alemu, a former high school English teacher, the arrest came days after she critiqued the ruling political party in an independent newspaper later shut down by the government.

The basis for the charges against these journalists is Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which contains overly vague provisions that have been used by the government to silence its critics. Since the Proclamation was adopted, more than 30 journalists have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of working on behalf of Nega and Alemu as a fellow with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). The small London-based non-profit works directly with journalists and bloggers who have been prosecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression. With the help of partner organizations, MLDI’s staff are currently working on 107 cases in 41 countries; the organization’s success rate in receiving favorable decisions hovers around 70 percent.

eskinder2Because I studied journalism before coming to law school, I know the range of challenges American journalists face, from accessing information to protecting sources to the threat of civil liability. Still, it was always clear to me that the First Amendment by and large provides a greater amount of protection to journalists than any other national legal system. As my work at MLDI made clear this summer, freedom of expression is severely restricted in other countries—by censorship, regulations, state-operated monopolies, criminal liability, and physical threat, among others.

For example, on my very first day, I worked on a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning the case of Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger who was wrongfully prosecuted on trumped up charges of tax evasion. Throughout my internship, I also researched case law from regional courts on freedom of expression, helped with an amicus curiae submission before the High Court of South Africa in a case about criminal defamation, and worked on a case in defense of a blogger in Singapore who is being sued by Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister.

When Nani Jansen, MLDI’s legal director, filed a submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Nega and Alemu, I had the opportunity to do preparatory work for the submission. I also helped in the filing of submissions to international and regional courts on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

At this point, their chances for release are still unknown, but the situation remains dire. In a New York Times Op-Ed, “Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag,” Nega wrote about gruesome prison conditions, including three toilets for about 1,000 prisoners. Alemu’s health continues to deteriorate: After receiving an operation to remove a lump in her breast—without the use of anesthesia—she was immediately sent back to the prison without proper recovery time, and she has since been denied further treatment.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights remains one of the last options for these two journalists. When the Commission convenes its next session on October 22nd, I am hopeful it will recognize their case is admissible and that the Ethiopian government has used the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to systematically violate the right to freedom of expression. Even if the Commission decides the case is admissible, a decision on the merits is far away. While the ruling on admissability will not immediately free Nega and Alemu, together with more international pressure, the Commission may eventually persuade Ethiopia that the cost of jailing journalists is too high.

Learn more about how to advocate on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

Lindsay Church, JD ‘16, will join the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford this January as a visiting research fellow. While there, she will work on a paper she began this summer, “International Influence on Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia: An Analysis of the Impact of Ethiopia’s Relations with the United States and China.”

Barron Fellows Reflect On Their Work With the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic

This summer, the Environmental Law Program announced its 2014 Barron Fellows, all of whom ventured out to different cities across the United States to work on environmental issues involving advocacy, litigation, and legal research. In addition to their passion for environmental justice, the Barron Fellows also discussed the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. You can read their comments below.

Cecilia Segal, J.D. '15

Cecilia Segal, J.D. ’15

Cecilia Segal, J.D. ’15 

“The clinic was a great experience for me. I had an offsite placement with the Clean Air Task Force in Boston. It gave me the opportunity to participate in huge developments in environmental law as it was happening. The projects I worked on were so relevant and fascinating; I helped prepare comments on EPA’s new power plant rules, and also provided research for the environmentalists’ brief in the UARG case, which was recently decided by the Supreme Court. Both projects gave me invaluable hands on experience and exposure to environmental lawyers, litigation, and policy work. The whole experience really solidified my goal of pursuing environmental law as a career.”

Seth Hoedl, J.D. '15

Seth Hoedl, J.D. ’15

Seth Hoedl, J.D. ’15 

“The Environmental Law Clinic has been a fantastic experience that has greatly enriched my time at HLS. I learn just as much, if not more, in the clinic than in formal classes and I feel that my work in the clinic has had just as much, if not more, impact on real-world issues as my summer positions. The clinic staff makes a real effort to match each student with projects that fit their interests. For me, it has become a true home at HLS and I look forward to continuing to work with the clinic during my 3L year. “

Sean Lyness, J.D. '15

Sean Lyness, J.D. ’15

Sean Lyness, J.D. ’15

“The Environmental Law and Policy Clinic has provided me with the support to seek out opportunities based on how passionate I am about them, not how lucrative they are. Some of the best, most important legal work out there does not come with a summer paycheck. The clinic has allowed me to pursue that work and thrive while doing it.” 

Samantha Caravello, J.D. '15

Samantha Caravello, J.D. ’15

Samantha Caravello,
J.D. ’15 

“The Environmental Law and Policy Clinic helped me secure an externship placement with a nonprofit organization defending EPA’s greenhouse gas rules before the Supreme Court. I was able to work on what I feel is the defining issue of my generation while learning from some of the country’s most talented environmental attorneys, an experience for which I am very grateful.” 

Read more about the fellows and their work through the fellowship here.

Clinic Students Visit Historic Dam They Seek to Protect

Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic students visit dam

Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic students visit dam

Via the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic

Clinic students Sarah Peterson (JD ’15) and Albert Teng (JD ’15) started their academic year seeing the real world impact of their work. First, they attended oral arguments in the case of United States Department of the Interior v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before the First Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 13-2439). Second, the Clinic team traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit the dam that was the subject of the case.Last semester, working with Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs and Clinical Instructor Aladdine Joroff, Sarah and Albert submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of nonprofit organizations regarding historic preservation issues relating to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision to amend the license for a hydroelectric project that impacts the Pawtucket Dam in the Lowell National Historical Park. Lowell’s history as the first large-scale planned industrial city in the United States, powered by its hydropower system, is protected by the Lowell National Historical Park Act (the “Lowell Act”). In its brief, the Clinic argued that the project approved by FERC would adversely affect the Pawtucket Dam, a historic resource of the Park, in a manner that contravenes the Lowell Act’s prohibition of adverse effects on the Park’s resources.

PLAP Clinical Instructor Happy To Be Back

John Fitzpatrick, Senior Clinical Instructor, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

John Fitzpatrick, Senior Clinical Instructor, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

For John Fitzpatrick ’87, a Senior Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), being at HLS this September has a special meaning. “It’s my first September since my return from Afghanistan,” said Fitzpatrick, a reserve Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps who deployed there for an active duty tour last year. “I’m glad to be here in Cambridge instead of back in Kabul,” he said.

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, Clinical Instructor, Joel Thompson ’97 and Administrative Director, Sarah Morton, oversee students who work on a wide range of prisoners’ rights issues. In addition to representing prisoners in disciplinary hearings and different types of parole hearings, PLAP students also take calls five days a week on a phone bank, respond to written requests for help, and litigate for their clients in the Massachusetts Superior Court. “It’s a busy law office offering a variety of services, from trial advocacy-like representation in prison disciplinary and parole hearings, to administrative appeals, to court litigation. From their 1L year on, our students get a chance to experience the A to Z of practicing law while helping a marginalized and underrepresented group of clients,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick originally thought he was being sent to Afghanistan last year to provide legal assistance to other soldiers and handle claims from local Afghans for damage to their property by U.S. forces. “That would be the typical combat-deployed assignment for a reservist, to help out with tasks like legal assistance and claims that are seen in Army as mundane and not exciting but are crucial to supporting our troops. I’m a reservist, so that’s what I was expecting. But I got a bit of a curve ball,” he said. On his arrival in the Kuwait staging area for deploying troops, Fitzpatrick was given some surprising news a couple of days before going forward to Afghanistan. “I was re-tasked with reporting to a headquarters element in a three star (general) command responsible for detainee operations. In other words, I was going from dealing with Massachusetts prisons at HLS to U.S. prisons in Afghanistan,” Fitzpatrick said. “At the start I guessed it would be interesting, and it was.”

Among his assignments were reviewing prison policies and procedures, evaluating whether there was a legal basis to detain newly captured Afghans and foreigners suspected of being insurgents, and training U.S. soldiers on the proper treatment of detainees.“It was fascinating and relevant work. Sometimes it would be the middle of the night and I would be on the phone with a higher ranking officer out in the field, arguing with him over detainee treatment, and when I was done, I would think for a moment that this was a pretty cool gig for a law school clinical instructor!”

Fitzpatrick was also taken aback by the many different roles he was expected to play. “My deployment as a JAG (uniformed Army lawyer) was different than the norm, mainly because of the way our task force functioned. We were highly mobile and at the center of the multi-national war effort that was being run from Kabul. I was arranging meetings with Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian officers. I was hanging out smoking pipes (a bad habit Fitzpatrick says he picked up during his tour) with the commanders of the French Army detachment, and smoked a hookah during a late-night sit down with one of the Jordanian commanders and a Canadian officer,“ he said. In addition to the unexpected amount of networking he had with so many different foreign officers, Fitzpatrick was also startled to find himself driving on convoy missions. “Being pressed into service as a driver was a curve ball. But I’m a Boston native and a Boston-trained driver. It quickly became clear that, aside from the constant threat of armed attack, driving around Kabul and Afghanistan would not be a particular challenge,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although he is glad to be back, he admits that in hindsight he was glad to have been ordered up for his tour of duty. “It was an amazing experience and an important mission” he said. “From what I saw, I came away convinced we are doing a lot more good than harm in Afghanistan. Admittedly, I also found some incompetence, especially with what seemed to be a rather bizarre lack of cultural awareness by a few in the more senior American leadership. But ,overwhelmingly, our service members are dedicated to the mission and are incredibly selfless for taking on the risks of such a combat deployment. I was humbled to serve with such dedicated and brave women and men.” “And,” Fitzpatrick pointed out, “I’m really, really happy to be safely home!”