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St. Thomas law students assist separated immigrant families

Team members raise their own funds to travel to detention center in Texas

St. Thomas Law team of students, professors and mental health experts pose for a photo during their time in Texas.

Photographer: COURTESY

St. Thomas Law team of students, professors and mental health experts pose for a photo during their time in Texas.

MIAMI GARDENS | A delegation of St. Thomas University law students, professors and mental health professionals recently headed to the Karnes Detention Center in Texas to lend their much-needed expertise to assist detained and separated families.

The effort was launched by the Immigration Law Students Association (ILSA) at St. Thomas University, its president, Andrea Valencia, and immediate past president, Diego Sanchez. The students raised their own funds with the help of generous contributions from school of law faculty members.

The St. Thomas Law Karnes Pro Bono Project partnered with RAICES, a non-profit organization that remains on the front lines on this issue. Nathalia Lozano, Vanessa Baez and Catherine Perez were the project coordinators.

This is the third such trip that St. Thomas Law has taken to the Karnes Detention Center in Texas, having gone there in 2016 to assist with immigrant issues. But this trip was different for this team. While all the stories are hard to hear and difficult to fathom, the ones that detail the separation of young children from their parents heightened the urgency of the situation for these student advocates.

Led by Lauren Gilbert, supervising St. Thomas immigration law professor, the team members included law students Lucas Aisenberg (3L), Jacqueline Vazquez-Aldana (3L), Vanessa Baez (3L), Alida Bustos (2L), Sofi Henshaw (2L), Maria Cornu Laport (2L), Nathalia Lozano (3L), Stefanie Morse (3L), Donna Nasimov (3L), Jasmine Ramos(3L), Otto Ruiz Frantzen(3L), and Alexsandra Simoes (3L).

There was also a group of mental health experts. Professor Dr. Judith Bachay, program director of the St. Thomas University Graduate Counseling Programs, oversaw the trauma specialists. Lory Toledo, executive director of the Trauma Resolution Center who accompanied the Karnes team in 2016, sent members of her trauma team, including Carla Barrows, Camila Montesano, Stephanie Vasquez, and Tizrah Neves. 

Professor Gilbert described the experience as “overwhelming, inspiring, devastating, and exhausting.” 

The team had to face issues such as fighting the lifting of injunctions that were preventing parents from being deported, witnessing parents begging their children for forgiveness for what has happened, and parents sacrificing themselves so that that their children could stay in the United States. 

The humanitarian crisis caused by the separation of migrant children from their asylum-seeking parents has had an effect on everyone that has heard the heartbreaking stories. St. Thomas is grateful that its team did not simply shake their heads and offer comment about how sad the crisis is, but rather, took life-changing action to effectuate change.

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