Kudos to The University of Michigan School of Law!

Grant lets law school fight human trafficking in Mexico
Karen Sloan

October 11, 2010

The University of Michigan Law School is working with a law school in Mexico to take on human trafficking.

The law school has received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State to establish a human trafficking clinic at the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Unidad Académica de Derecho, a law school located in north central Mexico. The Mexican clinic is an offshoot of the human trafficking clinic that Michigan launched in 2009, which was the first of its kind in the United States.

“The part that I’m excited about is that here in the U.S., we can do a lot as far as assisting prosecutors and victims of trafficking,” said Bridgette Carr, who directs the Michigan clinic. “What we can’t work on as much is prevention, because we’re sitting here in Ann Arbor. The goal is to not have clients.”

Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation and harboring of people for forced labor, servitude or slavery. Agriculture, spas and massage parlors, hotels and prostitution are just a few industries that have been connected to human trafficking.

One of the goals of the Mexican clinic, which will represent a partnership between the two law schools and a local nongovernmental organization called Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights), is to educate people about human trafficking. Although it will officially be part of the Mexican law school, the Michigan law school will help set up the clinic.

“This is really an opportunity to see how we can most effectively advocate for these clients on a transnational basis,” Carr said.

The partnership between the two clinics is a real innovation, said center founder and executive director Rachel Micah-Jones. “Students will provide quality legal representation to vulnerable migrant communities whose legal needs often cross borders,” she said. “In doing so, students will develop the skills to be transnational advocates in this new economy.”

In the year that the Ann Arbor-based clinic has been running, students have assisted clients who were forced to work in hair braiding salons, restaurants and in the commercial sex industry. The clinic’s 15 students are part lawyer, part caseworker. They assist victims of human trafficking in criminal and immigration proceedings, but also help them obtain services such as federal money to attend college, Carr said.

“One reason we started this clinic is that we didn’t want to be restricted in the type of assistance we offer,” Carr said. “We are able to come at it from any direction we want.”

Michigan law students will travel to the Mexican clinic during school breaks, Carr said.

The Justice Department grant will fund the project for two years.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at ksloan@alm.com.

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