From Lawyer to Guiding Light: What It’s Like to Work with Immigrant Families Under Trump

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

By Kerri Pinchuk – Emerson Collective

On a rainy Thursday morning in Oakland, Mindy Phillips stands in front of parents in an elementary school auditorium. The walls are colorfully decorated with photos of students, posters about the school Safety Patrol, and aspirational college pennants—Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of North Carolina—even though the school only teaches kindergarten through fifth grade.

Typically, the room serves as a gathering space for uplifting school activities like assemblies and awards presentations. But on this day, a week after President Trump signed executive orders targeting immigrants in the United States, parents gather for a different reason—a free immigrant rights Workshop. The school had advised Mindy, the immigration lawyer giving the workshop, to bring her bilingual “Know Your Rights” informational packets for 20 to 30 parents. But by 9 a.m., more than 40 parents fill every available plastic chair, while others who stream in later stand against the wall or sit on the floor. Some settle in with small children on their laps. A few push strollers. They’ll need more packets.

Mindy Phillips is an Equal Justice Works Fellow leading an innovative project at the East Bay Community Law Center. Working out of school-based health centers operated by La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), she offers free legal counsel to students and their families, some of whom are undocumented—and all of whom will be affected in some way by the new administration’s hardline stances on immigration. Mindy’s not entirely surprised by the huge turnout.

“People are scared,” she says—and this was before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in adherence to the executive orders, began stepping up deportations. Of course, fear has always been an undercurrent in communities where people are undocumented: parents fear being unable to make ends meet with limited job opportunities in the legal economy; children fear a boogeyman in the form of ICE agents coming in the night to take their parents. But now, it’s a nightmare that Trump has promised to make a reality for millions of families. Continue reading…

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