CAIR Coalition | Cassandra Nevel

My name is Cassandra Nevel and I’m a sophomore at American studying Law, Justice, and Society. I worked this semester with the charity organization “The CAIR Coalition”. This organization works directly with immigrants detained in U.S. prisons and allows them to reach out to pro bono lawyers to hear their case. This charity connects directly back to my class “Critical Issues In Justice” because the class is all about instances where legal rights do not apply either due to prejudice or exemptions to Constitutional amendments. We often discuss injustices in the legal system within judicial review and past injustices, such as Brown V. Education. In the case of the detained illegal immigrants, they are not being given the right to representation given to them although they clearly cannot afford it. They frequently call the CAIR Coalition hotline just to reach their family members or alternative lawyers working pro bono. They have no other option beyond using our hotline because they do not have to funds to pay the prison phone rates The overall injustice of lack of representation is justified by the United States by the fact that only citizens are guaranteed constitutional rights. And yet, thousands of illegal immigrants sit in our prisons every year, facing deportation to countries they no longer feel safe in, with no money to afford a lawyer in defense of their case. In a traditional citizen’s case, no matter the crime, this would be a clear infringement on the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. My organization worked to prevent this injustice by funding and providing these lawyers to help those over populating our prisons. My responsibilities primarily encompassed answering hotline phone calls from those in prison or family members concerned about relatives. By taking down their information and passing them on to the pro bono lawyers in our organization, I helped the probability of their case being heard. This probability was surprisingly slim because of lack of funding for the organization. Without proper funding, only about 80 cases could be heard a year from the thousands of phones we receive of immigrant begging for representation. One of my biggest disappointments in my job was informing these callers that there was no guarantee that we could take their calls or help them beyond sending them lists of other lawyers to beg to take their case. My expectations, when starting work with this organization, were that I would be able to see the positive impact of my hard work directly. In fact, the positive impact of the hotline is a lot more subtle and hard to see at first, and yet, it’s a job that truly needs to be done. At times, it can feel slightly pointless, sitting in a windowless office waiting for phone calls, when in actuality I want to be learning more about the work the pro bono lawyers are doing. However, I recognize that this is work that needs skill beyond the level I currently have and that, with time, I may be able to understand more of the legal process happening around me. In the meantime, any work I can accomplish to help such a deserving organization is work that I am excited to do. This work has directly and deeply helped me understand my American University case “Critical Issues In Justice” because it has helped me think beyond the “normalized” injustices Americans typically think of. For instance, before working with this organization, I had never fully realized what being a non-citizen would mean in terms of your life. When the Constitution is the backbone of our nation and what protects us all, it is extremely frightening to realize that this is not the case for all. The rights you and I think of as normal, to some, are anything but.  

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