UofM Law School human trafficking clinic to open clinic in Mexico

The University of Michigan's Law School Human Trafficking Clinic received a $300,000 federal grant to open a similar clinic in Mexico next year.

The U.S. Department of State grant means the new clinic in Zacatecas, Mexico, will help victims of human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery. The crime involves the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of people for the purposes of slavery, forced labor, and servitude.

Human trafficking exists nationwide and across the world. It can be found in many industries: agriculture, spas and massage parlors, hotel work, and domestic service, as well as prostitution.

"By awarding us the grant, the State Department acknowledged that the success of our clinic could be replicated elsewhere," clinic director Bridgette Carr said. "We're excited about this new venture and look forward to helping victims in Mexico."

U-M's clinic opened last fall - the first of its kind at any U.S. law school. Clinics allow students to gain practical skills in legal fields, thus several U-M law students will travel to Mexico assist in cases and train the clinic's staff.

"Not only do the students gain valuable advocacy skills, they have been and will continue to be instrumental in protecting victims' rights, in shaping the policy conversation, and in drafting the language used in amendments to trafficking laws," Carr said.

Effective advocacy involves raising awareness about human trafficking among Mexico's citizens, law enforcement officials and other leaders, as well as victims. The process will take an undetermined amount of time, she said.

Carr and law students will work with non-governmental organization Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) and law school Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Unidad Académica de Derecho.

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights) is the first transnational workers' rights law center based in Mexico to focus on U.S. workplace rights. The non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions of migrant workers in the United States through a four-pronged strategy of outreach and community education, intake and referral, direct legal services, and policy advocacy.

"This clinical partnership is an exciting, innovative and true collaboration between CDM and law school clinics on both sides of the US-Mexico border," said CDM founder and executive director Rachel Micah-Jones. "Students will provide quality legal representation to vulnerable migrant communities whose legal needs often cross borders. In doing so, students will develop the skills to be transnational advocates in this new economy."

Carr said Mexico was chosen for the pilot clinic because of a previous relationship with CDM. In addition, law schools often overlook program start-ups in Mexico, opting instead to establish connections in continents such as Europe and Africa, she added.

This is Carr's second international effort to open a clinic. Last March, she traveled to Alexandria University to assist with the opening of Egypt's first law school legal clinic, which focuses on human trafficking and domestic violence. She met with the university's law students, professors, and administrators to train them in teaching methods used by U.S. clinical programs.

Published: Thu, Oct 21, 2010

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