A Jail by Any Other Name...
The personal observation from one law student’s experience at the South Texas Family Residential Center, an ICE Detention Center
The South Texas Family Residential Center, described in one word, is a euphemism. Opened in December of 2014, this “family detention center” looms large in the tiny town of Dilley, Texas, just over 80 miles from the US-Mexico border. Immediately next door is a Texas state prison; from the road, the two are indistinguishable, surrounded by high walls and perimeter lights.
Currently, the “family detention center” houses around 400 women and their children. However, it will soon be expanded to house over 2,400 women, at which point it will be the largest ICE detention center in the country. Many of the women detained in Dilley endured harrowing experiences in their home countries that prompted them to flee to the US in search of a life free from persecution and torture. Despite their status as victims of threats and violence, leading to potentially valid claims for asylum, these women are detained in what is, in actuality, a jail, and are monitored at all times by guards. You see, the “family detention center” is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison company in the US.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the immigrant jail in Dilley is the facility’s choice and use of terms that make it less obvious that these women and their (often young) children are incarcerated. Trailers used for court, visitation, and dining all feature names reminiscent of cabins at a Girl Scout camp, such as “Purple Pigeon.” The correctional officers perform “counts,” just as would occur normally in a prison, though in the “family detention center,” the count is referred to as the “census.” CCA even took the time to plant palm trees around the outer security perimeter of the jail to make it look a little homier.
Meet the Women of Dilley
So who are the women I encountered in Dilley? The women were young – most I met with were less than 25 years old – and most had young children with them. All of the women were from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, and the vast majority of them do not speak any English. They have suffered extreme domestic violence, physical abuse at the hands of gang members, and threats that would make your blood curdle. These women showed me their knife wounds, revealed to me their children’s gunshot wounds, cried as they explained how gang members threatened to cut off their heads and kill their children, related to me stories of abuse so shocking that I have had countless nightmares ever since.
In the face of such persecution and torture, the courage and resilience that these women continue to show is nothing short of astounding. Yet, our country is treating them as if they are criminals who pose a danger to US society. Upon arrival at the border, many undocumented immigrants are taken to temporary detention facilities colloquially known as “hieleras” (iceboxes) for at least a day. When we asked the women to briefly tell us about their experience crossing the border, many voluntarily offered information about the hieleras, and the trauma and dehumanizing conditions they faced there. In addition to the obviously frigid temperatures (which caused many people’s appendages to turn blue), such accounts included descriptions of: overwhelmingly crowded cells with no space to sleep or even sit; damp concrete floors with no chairs, pillows, or blankets; utter lack of privacy; and denial of food and basic hygienic supplies. From the hieleras, immigrants are loaded into the border patrol vans – known colloquially as “perreras” (“dog kennels”) – to be taken to ICE facilities like the one in Dilley.
How the Journey Begins
The hieleras are merely the tip of the iceberg that is a broken immigration system – a system that is failing the women incarcerated in Dilley and countless others like them. For many immigrants, the dangerous journey begins with coyotes, who charge around $5,000 to $7,000 to deliver their passengers to the border – if the passengers are going to be caught by border patrol agents. Immigrants who wish to be taken to the border safely and cross without being caught by border patrol agents must pay around $14,000. So, unsurprisingly, most people pay what they can afford and are caught. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requires that ICE officers question recently arriving immigrants, within a short time of coming into contact with them, regarding whether they are fearful of returning to their country of origin. If an arriving individual expresses fear of returning to his or her country of origin, the law requires that they be granted an interview with an asylum officer.
The law, and asylum seekers’ rights under it, is often not respected in practice. In Dilley, I discovered that the information on many women’s Notice to Appear forms – issued by ICE – was false. In many instances, women were either not questioned at all pertaining to whether they were fearful of returning; or if questioned, the questions were insufficient to elicit information relevant to an asylum claim (such as why a particular person is fearful). The varying diligence and truthfulness of ICE agents creates a system that is arbitrary in nature. To give one example, I will share a brief part of Alicia’s* story.
Alicia crossed the border within a few hours of her sister; she and her sister are the same age, each was accompanied by her only child, and each fled their home county for the same reason. Alicia and her sister encountered different ICE agents. The agent who interviewed the sister was able to determine that she was fearful of returning to her home country and should be allowed to apply for asylum; as a result, that agent allowed Alicia’s sister to leave ICE custody on parole and join her family. Alicia’s experience has been the opposite of her sister’s: the ICE agent she encountered did not question her about any fear of returning she may have and sent her to the jail in Dilley to be detained with her child. Once in the Dilley jail, Alicia met with an asylum officer, who determined that she most likely has a “credible fear” of persecution if deported, and her detention officer set a bond of $10,000 for her that was required to be paid in full before she was allowed to leave the jail and join her family.
Not only is it shocking that two individuals in the exact same situation were dealt with in a completely different manner, but it is also shocking that our government is setting such exorbitant bonds for women like Alicia. $10,000 is the average bond for the women of Dilley and can only be lowered to $7,500 in very select circumstances when the asylum seeker has the requisite number and type of supporting documents (such as identification cards and “letters of support” from friends/family in the US). This document requirement is occasionally made more difficult by the fact that possessions are easily lost during the dangerous one-month trip through Mexico to reach the US, and by the fact that family members are often separated at the border. While one woman I met – Lupe – was lucky because she had brought and retained a large number of supporting documents, she was beside herself because she had crossed the border with her cousin, who was taken to an ICE jail for men. The ICE officers had not allowed her cousin to bring anything with him, so she held on to all of his documents. She does not know where he was taken and has no way to get that information. ICE has an online locator for people in detention, but repeated searches – with his name spelled many different ways – uncovered no information about him. Thus, he is either in detention, held under an extremely high bond because he has no documents and no way to be reached by Lupe, or he has been deported to his home country, where his life is in imminent danger. Moreover, even if I had been able to find his location online, Lupe would not have been able to call and speak with her cousin, as individuals who are detained by ICE are not allowed to receive phone calls.
Barriers and the Court
The communication barriers and the isolation of asylum seekers who are detained continue throughout the asylum process. The situation becomes increasingly dire when the asylum seeker does not speak a common language, such as English or Spanish. In the Dilley jail, many of the women have escaped persecution in Guatemala; as a result, quite a few of them speak Quiche and do not understand enough Spanish to have a conversation or to be engaged in judicial proceedings in Spanish. For one particular young woman – Magdalena – this linguistic restriction has resulted in asylum hearings that are consistently continued whenever the Quiche interpreter is unavailable, which is an unpredictable and all-too-common occurrence.
The prevailing arbitrariness in how asylum seekers are treated is accompanied by other difficulties they encounter upon arriving in the US. Countless asylum seekers, especially the women I met in Dilley, are treated with disdain and outright hostility. One detention officer expressly told Graciela – a woman who had knife wounds and recounted chilling accounts of abuse – that she was fabricating her entire story, and that she would be deported because the asylum officer would not believe her “lies”. Such callousness was not only exuded by certain detention officers, but also by some immigration judges. For instance, Liliana, a mother of two children had enough money to bring one child to the US with her. So, she brought her son—mainly because a gang was actively trying to recruit him and his life was in danger. During a hearing, a judge berated Liliana for only bringing one of her children to the US and strongly implied that she must be a terrible mother for leaving her other child behind if the situation was “so dangerous.”
In light of emotional mistreatment and the lack of legal or community support for these women, it is obvious that they are in serious need of people willing to advocate for them. That is where I, and the CARA Pro Bono Project**, come in. The team leader of our volunteer group in Dilley aptly described our experience there as “guerrilla lawyering”: many moments, I felt like our group was fighting a battle simply to be allowed to help the women there. Our workweek consisted of assisting women at the jail from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day, with several more hours of work every evening. Yet, the long hours were arguably the easiest part of the week. We had to work in a “court” where the guards yelled at us any time we attempted to speak to our clients. We could not take phones into the facility and, thus, had to make many calls to women’s family members in the evenings. We did not have access to a printer or copier, which was crucial for purposes of completing paperwork, so we eventually bought one and hauled it into the facility daily. The week after we left, not surprisingly, the supervisors banned the Pro Bono Project from bringing the printer into the facility at all.
Obstacles that arose were exacerbated by the fact that the Dilley immigrant jail is a place where the rules always change. One day, the lawyers are allowed to enter without being required to show a Bar card; the next, it is required. One day, we can bring Internet hotspots into the facility; the next, this is an issue. One day, we are allowed to begin setting up makeshift offices in the visitation trailer beginning at 7:00 a.m.; the next, not until 8:00 a.m. One day, we are allowed to pass through security if we take off our belts and shoes; the next, we are informed that women will no longer be able to enter with underwire bras! One day, the women can turn in a particular request form to obtain documents; the next, the detention offices require their own, new form and do not allow the lawyers to have a copy of the new form to provide to our clients. Every single day, some additional hurdle was placed in front of us that made it more difficult to effectively communicate with, and represent, the women.
What made this struggle worthwhile? The women I have described above, and all of the other women in the exact same situation as them. Words cannot describe the happiness I felt when a woman I had helped was released on bond so that she could pursue her asylum claim as a free woman. Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I was able to look Graciela in the face and tell her that I believed her story, that I understood her pain, and that the asylum officer would believe her, too. Moments like these made the week that I spent in Dilley worth everything that I invested in it. But the fight is far from over. These courageous women are victims – not criminals – and our government’s reliance on family detention of immigrants needs to end right now. Family detention, especially detention of asylum seekers, is a travesty of justice and a dark stain on our nation’s already broken immigration system.
* All names provided herein are pseudonyms for confidentiality purposes.
** The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and its mandate are described here: http://www.aila.org/practice/pro-bono/find-your-opportunity/cara-family-detention-pro-bono-project.
Erin Welch is a 3L from Florida, drawn to the College of Law because of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. Duing the 2014/15 school year, she served as editor of the Human Rights Quarterly. After law school Erin plans to focus her career in the area of human rights
Stephen Rost Hones Professional Skills with Corporate Externship
Originally from Madeira, Ohio, Stephen Rost ’15 has enjoyed studying law close to home. After graduating high school, however, he left the familiar surroundings of Cincinnati to attend St. Louis University, where he studied political science and theology. He went on to earn his master’s degree in political science and then returned to his hometown, working as an aide to Cincinnati Councilwoman Amy Murray.
“When I decided that it was time to return to the classroom to pursue a law degree, Cincinnati was an easy choice,” explained Rost, noting that proximity to friends and family was a factor he considered. At UC Law, his favorite class has been Corporate Transactions, and he is the editor-of-chief of the Freedom Center Journal. Now Rost is beginning his final semester at the law school, and he is looking forward to the next steps of his career.
Gaining Corporate Experience
Through the externship program at UC Law, Stephen worked for a semester with d.e. Foxx & Associates, Inc. A parent company encompassing three brands (Foxx Construction & Facility Management, XLC Sercies, and Versatex), d.e. Foxx & Associates has been based out of Cincinnati for over 30 years. A tour of the city will lead one past several of the projects Foxx Construction has worked on, including Great American Ball Park, the Horseshoe Casino, and UC’s own Shoemaker Center. Further, XLC Services provides manufacturing services and warehouse management, and Versatex provides procurement and supplier management solutions. This breadth of areas was part of the draw for him as he considered where he wanted to extern. “I noticed the structure of the company,” he said, “and I saw the opportunity to work in multiple areas through one externship.”
With d.e. Foxx & Associates, Rost gained a variety of experiences. He drafted several contracts, worked on compliance matters concerning job application disclosures, and attended various meetings and events including bidding meetings and mediations. Among the many things that he learned during his externship, one thing that struck him as significant is the importance of legal research skills outside the classroom. “In drafting construction contracts and working on compliance in employment matters, I really utilized the research skills I have learned as a student,” he shared. “As the company does work in numerous states, I looked into state minimum wages and contract law. Such broad research projects can be quite the undertaking, and having a solid foundation of legal research skills is a very valuable tool to have.”
In reflection on his experience, Rost noted that a diversity of experiences and a focus on practical classes is key in succeeding in a corporate setting. “As in-house counsel, you may be asked to do any number of projects encompassing a variety of legal concerns. Having a broad base of knowledge and experience can prove useful.” As his final semester begins, he will continue to broaden and hone his skill set to prepare for the bar exam and beyond.
Externship at Fifth Third Bank Helped Kyle Miller Build Professional Skills
In his second year of law school, Kyle Miller ’16 gained experience in the corporate world by way of a legal externship through the law school’s externship program. It was recommended to him that he apply to extern with Fifth Third Bank; after taking that advice, Miller has gained valuable experience to carry forward through the rest of his education and into his career.
Originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan, Miller attended Miami (OH) University where he studied marketing. Although the plan was always to ultimately end up in law school, he worked for a couple of years with a startup IT consulting company after receiving his bachelor’s degree. When it came time to return to the classroom, he found the College of Law to be the right choice – an affordable and high quality education not far from the connections he made while at Miami. At the law school, Miller is a corporate law fellow, a member of Law Review, and a Structured Study Group leader. Now halfway through his legal education, he looks to build off of the experiences he gained as an extern this last semester.
Now, About That Externship
Fifth Third Bank is a regional banking corporation, headquartered in Cincinnati. It employs over 20,000 people. Miller spent a semester externing with Fifth Third, and found himself working on a variety of things. Compliance work, research for litigation, oral argument preparations, drafting contracts, and working on mergers and acquisitions are some of experiences he had.
As one of his first experiences doing legal work, he gained valuable skills in his time as an extern. “I learned that the process of legal research can be applied in a similar manner in a broad variety of contexts,” Miller shared. “One day I was conducting research concerning a merger, the next I was looking up contract and compliance issues. Having a research method that can be applied in these different areas is extremely useful.”
He also had the chance to attend a Cincinnati Reds game and a golf outing with the company – who says that there are no perks in being an extern?!
To current and prospective students who think they may be interested in entering the corporate world, his advice is to take advantage of UC Law’s externship program. “Definitely do an externship,” he said. “While I could have chosen to wait another semester, I learned a lot from my time with Fifth Third. The practical experience is invaluable. It supplements the academic aspect of your legal education quite well, and vice versa.” Now with his externship completed, Miller is looking forward to the challenges of the second half of his time as a law student.
For more information about the externship program, contact Karla Hall, the program director.
2L Olivia Luehrmann Sets Her Sights on Career as a Prosecutor
A tri-state native from Boone County, Kentucky, Olivia Luehrmann ’16 feels right at home here at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “I love Cincinnati,” shared Luehrmann. “Both the city and the school have so much to offer, so it was naturally one of my top choices for law school.”
Before law school, Olivia attended the University of Louisville where she majored in psychology and minored in political science and justice administration. This background in psychology drew her to UC Law’s Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry, of which she is now a fellow. “Throughout my undergraduate studies, I began to see the unique ways in which the law, psychiatry, and psychology are forever intertwined,” said Luehrmann. “I wanted to further my studies in this field, specifically in criminal law.”
During her time at Louisville, she worked for a small law firm, and saw how mental illness and psychology play a significant role in the overall functionality of our judicial system. The issues of recidivism and lack of treatment for the mentally ill stood out to her, and she has set her sights on helping to reform the system in these areas in her career after law school.
Outside of class, Luehrmann currently works for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in Boone County, Kentucky. For about 10 years, her family has lived just down the road from the office, and she has always been interested in working there. Now this is an experience she is excited to be having during her second year at UC Law.
In her past few months at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Luehrmann has been able to see and take part in a number of cases and investigations. She has written motions and responses, taken part in a complete murder trial, a grand jury investigation, dockets, suppression hearings, and a Daubert hearing among other things. “I have been able to see a side of the justice system that not many people are able to see,” she explained, noting in particular that her work has allowed her to see the functions of the Sheriff’s Department and to understand the mechanics of a police investigation.
“Take as many criminal law-based classes as you can,” Luehrmann advises, “but do not expect to know everything — don’t be afraid to ask questions!” She has also found it enormously beneficial to learn as much about the entire process as possible. “See if you can do a ride-along with an officer, or shadow the crime investigation unit for a day. There is so much more to criminal law than cases, and you must have a deep understanding of it all to truly appreciate where the law is coming from and what those involved do every day.”
After law school, Luehrmann hopes to continue working for the Commonwealth, or otherwise as a state or federal prosecutor, or even possibly for the FBI. “I want to be able to have an impact on the system,” she shared. “Lately, you hear so much about how the justice system is failing and people have lost all faith in the way things have always worked – this saddens me. While some may think my ambitions sound naïve, I want to make a difference.”
3L John Holschuh Talks Criminal Defense, Externships, and Writing for Ohio Lawyer
“Four years ago, I was eating lunch with my grandfather and my best friend, Mike, who mentioned that he was considering going to law school to be a prosecutor. My grandfather smiled and told Mike he thought that was a great idea. He then said something that inspired me to become a lawyer, and that best represents why I am interested in pursuing a law career,” said 3L John (Johnny) Holschuh III.
“He told us that too often in criminal cases the scales of power are tipped in favor of the government against the defendant, especially when the defendant lacks money. The government has the superior resources and manpower to bring cases, while public defenders are [often] overburdened and under resourced, which can lead to unfair trials. The law, then, needs committed public defenders to help prevent miscarriages of justice. So that idea – to use the skills I have to help even the scales of justice by advocating for the marginalized whose rights are at risk – has always stuck with me and inspires me to be a lawyer.”
Holschuh, who plans to pursue a career in public criminal defense and human rights, hails from a family of attorneys: grandfather Hon. John D. Holschuh, Sr. ’51; father John D. Holschuh, Jr. ’80; and mother Wendy G. Holschuh ’83. A Cincinnati native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Tulane University (New Orleans, LA), returning to Cincinnati for law school.
Holschuh commented that the experiential opportunities he’s had at the College of Law have been very beneficial for preparing him for a career in the legal field. Currently, he is participating in the Sixth Circuit Clinic. “I … assist in the representation of an indigent criminal defendant’s appeal. Although it has just started, we reviewed our cases, and so I have already learned a lot about what not to do as a criminal defense lawyer.”
While at the College he’s also had opportunity to extern at several places around the world. “I have undertaken several human rights internships over the summers, thanks to the help and guidance of Professor Lockwood. In the summer of 2012, I worked as a legal intern at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre Clinic. From June until December 2013, I worked as a research fellow at the International Commission of Jurists’ Southeast Asia office in Bangkok, Thailand. (The ICJ is a human rights organization that promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law.) Last summer, I worked as a legal intern with EarthRights International’s Mekong Legal Team in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (EarthRights works with local communities and uses the law to protect against human rights abuses connected with environmental destruction.)
“All of these internships have been extremely beneficial, helping to provide me with an understanding of human rights practice and theory. Additionally, they have given me friends from all over, and expanded my perspective of the law as well as the world.
“I also completed an externship under Hon. Judge Susan J. Dlott in Spring 2014. This, too, was a great experience. Judge Dlott is a wonderful judge and person, and I gained a valuable understanding of how the federal court system operates.
“The most important lesson I have been taught by the professors at UC Law, though, is not to be afraid to think creatively and out of the box when addressing challenging legal issues.”
Recently Holschuh penned an article that was published in the September/October issue of Ohio Lawyer. “I originally wrote the article for the UC Law Review Blog, and after my dad read it he recommended that I submit it to Ohio Lawyer. So I sent it in, and was fortunate enough to be selected for publication.”
The response to the article has been positive thus far, he noted. “Dean Bilionis and a few professors have told me they enjoyed the article. I think the death penalty advocates have politely withheld their criticisms (so far), although I would encourage everyone to be open in discussing the topic. I think one reason the death penalty is still around is because no one likes talking about it, and so I hope this article will spur discussion on the issue.”
When asked if he plans to continue a writing career, he stated, “I hope so, though I’m not sure what topic is next!”
Work of OIP Gives Justin Jennewine Broader Perspective on Criminal Law
When it came to choosing between law schools, Cincinnati was an easy choice for Xenia, OH native Justin Jennewine ‘16. He always had a connection with the Queen City and he wanted to stay in state to remain close to family and friends. The College of Law was especially appealing because of the strong sense of community he felt when he visited and because of the small class sized, which he had learned to enjoy while at the University of Dayton.
At UD he majored in finance and economics, keeping his eye on a business career. Jennewine strongly considered pursuing a MBA. In the end, however, he opted to seek his JD, something he had been interested in since high school.
The summer before coming to Cincinnati for law school, he worked at the Dayton firm Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman & Swaim. There, he was able to employ his business background while gaining experience and learning about working at a law firm. “Working at a law firm before law school was an excellent experience,” Jennewine shared, noting that he received useful advice and gained quality experience leading up to law school.
His interest in OIP began when he took a tour of the College of Law. His tour guide was working with OIP and they stopped in the office during their tour. Seeing the work close up, Jennewine was inspired to work there himself. While he still has a strong interest in business law, Jennewine knew that working with the OIP would be an excellent opportunity. Additionally, he wanted to test the waters working in the criminal law context. “It has been such a great experience,” Jennewine said, “but it has actually made my career decisions more difficult. I still find the intersection of law and business very interesting, but I have also very much enjoyed my time with the OIP, and can tell that I would enjoy this kind of work down the road as well.
“From the short time I have spent so far with the OIP, my perspective on the status of individuals after they have been incarcerated has changed,” he shared. “You really have to teach yourself that, no matter what they were accused and convicted of, these are human beings you are working with. This is their life they are trying to regain, and if there is even the smallest chance that they were unjustly incarcerated, we have to do everything we can because we have the skills to help them.”
To current first-years and prospective law students, Jennewine strongly recommends OIP. “If you have even the slightest inclination you might have any interest in it, the OIP is the perfect experience to see what public interest and criminal law offers. I haven’t met more passionate attorneys than the ones I work with at OIP. It has been a wonderful experience thus far. Give it a chance, that’s the one thing I will say.”
Wells Channels Life Experiences into Public Interest Work
Catlin Wells ’16, a Dayton, Ohio native born at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, spent her formative years as a military kid, travelling all over the United States with her family. She lived the “military lifestyle” throughout her childhood before returning to Ohio for her collegiate studies, graduating from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications. With a growing interest in the area of public interest, Wells decided to focus on a legal education and joined the UC Law community.
Now working with the Ohio Innocence Project, she had been engaged in public interest work for some time. While in Dayton she was involved in an after school care program and worked with special needs children. By the time she moved to Columbus for undergraduate school, Wells knew she wanted to stay involved in this area of work and did so as a Head Start teacher. It was her experiences doing this work that, in part, inspired her to seek a legal education so that she could work to improve the situations for struggling families.
“I was particularly drawn to the OIP from hearing what previous students had to say about it,” she shared. Now several months into her time as an OIP fellow, she has benefitted enormously from her experiences thus far. “It’s sometimes too easy to get lost in the cases you read for class. But my time with the OIP has given me an outlet to apply the sometimes nebulous classroom lessons in a very real, practical setting.”
Wells admits, however, that her work is sometimes frustrating. “The work at the OIP can feel like a losing battle some of the time,” she shared. “I may spend all week calling witnesses who don’t want to talk with me, begging overworked public employees to send me records from dusty and unorganized file cabinets, and trying to find evidence that might not even exist.” It’s at these difficult moments that she remembers her supervisor’s advice on how to channel her frustration: “Don’t get mad for you, get mad for the inmate.”
When asked about her future, Wells shared that she plans to continue working to benefit the community. “I tell people I want to go into politics, but I think that’s a little bit misleading."
She continued, “I was blessed with access to good education, health care, and a house in a neighborhood that was safe enough for me to knock on a stranger’s door when it was time to sell Girl Scout cookies. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life begging for campaign donations and votes, but I’m serious about working with local government officials to make sure that the next generation can say the same thing about their community.”
Jackie Welp Likes Being a Truth-Seeker
“The Ohio Innocence Project was a big factor in my decision to come to UC Law,” shared Jackie Welp '16. While attending the University of Cincinnati (for her two degrees) she was involved with the Pre-Law club. There, she arranged to get an OIP exoneree to come speak to the club. “It was a great experience, and afterwards I almost immediately wrote my personal statement and applied!”
Welp is a 2L working with the Ohio Innocence Project. A Columbus, Oh native, she has strong family ties to the Queen City. After graduating from UC with majors in history and political science, she chose the College of Law as the place for her legal education.
Working on 20 twenty cases (a typical caseload for an OIP student) Welp has been truly immersed in her work. “For one reason or another, myself and other OIP students sometimes have trouble pulling ourselves away from one particular case or another—whether it be the particular facts or our belief that the defendant is innocent,” she shared, noting that the experience is useful and educational from a time and caseload management standpoint. It is also work about which it is easy to become enthusiastic.
Being a ‘Truth Seeker’
Since she began working at the OIP, Welp has found that her perspective on post-conviction work has evolved. “The prosecution (in these cases), in the midst of defending their convictions, look at us as ‘defense attorneys.’ We, however, see ourselves more as truth-seekers,” she explained. She noted that while the prosecutors are simply doing their jobs, it can be frustrating at times when her truth-seeking efforts are resisted.
Welp has always been interested in criminal law, and, in particular, sees herself doing prosecution work after graduation. OIP, while on a different side of the criminal law spectrum, has been an excellent experience for her, and has really reinforced for her the interest she has in practicing criminal law.
Her advice to any students potentially interested in criminal law is to check out OIP. “Get involved in the OIP, even if you are just exploring criminal law. While the experience has really reinforced my interests in criminal law, it has led other students to the important realization that this sort of thing isn’t for them. Either way, you learn how to handle a large caseload and how to work with an office full of your classmates, which is really a valuable skill.”
Hannah Brooks’14 Shares Her Experience at the Lavender Law Conference
I have so many wonderful things to say about the Lavender Law Conference and I'm honestly not too sure where to begin. I just want to thank you, as an office (the CPD), again for having sent out the information; and, I also want to thank you and everyone you worked with to help me get funds to ease the financial burden of the trip. It was beyond worth it. There were so many opportunities for networking, lots of job opportunities, and opportunities for professional growth. I was beyond pleased with each moment.
Next year the conference will be in Chicago so I want to encourage as many people, students, and grads-to-be to head there after the bar exam. If they are able to come, I would like to ask to have my information kept on file so I can help them secure cheap/free accommodations and help them figure out how to navigate the city and ways to get the most out of the conference. I would love to be a resource to help others participate. I entirely intend on returning next year.
I am writing up several e-mails about different workshops and contacts that I made at the conference to e-mail to different professors regarding related work. If you have any questions or want to know more please let me know. I'm still gushing about it to everyone.
One more thing - The shorter man with white hair in the photo next to me is late civil rights' activist, most notably MLKs advisor, Bayard Rustin's partner. His name is Walter Naegle, and I took this picture shortly after wiping my tears. I couldn't believe he was there. They talked quite a bit about the Brother Outsider documentary so that's part of what I will be sending into other students, organizations, and professors. Definitely a highlight for me.
Addressing Human Trafficking Problems Fuels Zemmelman
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Rebecca Zemmelman ’16 became passionate about social justice and human rights becuase of her environment. Her mother, the Hon. Connie F. Zemmelman, is a judge on the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division (Toledo, OH). As she learned more about her mother’s work, Zemmelman realized the seriousness of the human trafficking problem in Toledo, and became interested in taking steps to be in a position to affect change.
Before joining the College of Law, Zemmelman studied at Miami University in Oxford, pursuing journalism and political science. It was during her time in Oxford that she first connected with UC Law. As a leader in the Pre-Law Society there, Rebecca became acquainted with the College’s own Professor Christopher Bryant. It so happened that he was involved in a lot of the programming the student group organized that year. “Professor Bryant and I went to coffee the year I was applying,” she shared. “He was extremely nice and helpful.” Not only did Professor Bryant make her confident that UC Law was the right choice, but the entire Admissions team, faculty, and staff were very welcoming. She also was drawn to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) here at the College of Law of which she is a fellow.
Additionally, Zemmelman works in the College of Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice as a Program Assistant. In this position, she does a bit of everything to help the Center and its programs run smoothly: she attends meetings with the Center’s leadership, helps plan events, and assists with Center events and clinics (including this semester’s directed reading course at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center downtown and with the Domestic Violence Clinic). To round things out, Zemmelman is also the vice-president of the American Constitution Society here at the law school.
Shining a Light on Human Trafficking
When she was a junior at Miami University, Zemmelman worked with Congressman Dennis Kucinich in Washington D.C. “It was very interesting working with him,” she said, noting that the experience was very educational. In her time in Washington, she began taking a closer look at the attention human trafficking was receiving on Capitol Hill, and saw that, while the problem was recognized, not a great deal of support was to be found for any bills that aimed to impact change. “I did a lot of research going to seminars, and learned as much about the problem as I could,” she explained. “Human trafficking seems to mostly avoid the media spotlight, as the issues are not overly political. A common misperception is that the problem is not here in Ohio, or even the US. But, in fact, human trafficking is a serious issue right here at home and it needs to be addressed.”
Zemmelman’s experiences have inspired her to take steps in her own career towards effecting change in our communities. After gaining her J.D., she aims to work with local government and policymakers. “I’ve really been motivated through my work with the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, as well as my work with OIP. There are some serious issues that have struggled to gain traction in our legal system, and I feel I am in a position to be able to make a difference.”