Emily Torstveit and Elizabeth Leonard spent spring break studying the flight of migrant workers over the Mexican border into the United States. In their work with Borderlinks, a nonprofit organization that exposes students to complex political, legal and economic border issues, they watched 15 workers make a desperate run as patrol guards changed shifts. They also visited organizations that provide social services, spoke with U.S. border agents and observed federal court proceedings in which migrants were tried on charges of illegal entry.
Torstveit and Leonard described their experiences last April at the annual Public Service Awards Ceremony, in which 86 Penn Law students were recognized for completing 80 or more hours of public service — well beyond the mandatory requirement of 70 hours.
Joining them was Deul Ross, who spoke about BALSA’s fact-finding mission in a Liberian refugee camp located in Accra, Ghana. Liberians are protesting, he explained, because the Ghanaian government has offered them a hundred dollars each to repatriate after years of mistreatment in the camps. As part of the project, Ross and eight other students met a former immigration officer in Ghana.
Keynote speaker Judge Darnell Jones of the Court of Common Pleas, emphasized the importance of pro bono work. As an example, he cited the project he is helming to reduce mortgage foreclosures in Philadelphia. The court is arranging free counseling sessions for homeowners undergoing foreclosure proceedings, as well as conciliation hearings between lenders and borrowers. The goal is to reach a modified loan agreement or some other arrangement that will allow borrowers to stay in their homes. The Court of Common Pleas, he said, was one avenue for lawyers to do public service.
To conclude the ceremony, Arlene Rivera-Finkelstein, director of the Toll Public Interest Center, honored Karina Yamada for her documentary on the Sugiarto family, a Christian Chinese family who escaped persecution in Indonesia and is undergoing immigration proceedings in the United States.