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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Students engaged in cutting edge, grassroots advocacy

Continuing the theme from yesterday, today I feature the work of another group of former students, in this case Nicole Cortés and Jessica Mayo of The Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project).  The MICA Project is a community organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice. The MICA Project utilizes legal services, organizing, advocacy, and education to promote the voice and human dignity of immigrant communities.

Engaging with low-income communities, and in particular immigrant communities, requires more than simply filling out and filing documents.  As the MICA Project recognizes, there are a range of advocacy skills, both traditional and non-traditional, required to help low-income and socially vulnerable clients negotiate their way through difficult personal crises made harder by bureaucracy and language difficulties. 

One feature of the MICA Project I find particularly interesting is that Nicole (along with a bunch of the students I taught in her Race Relations Law class) is a joint JD/MSW student.  The MICA Project’s emphasis on the cutting edge of legal representation through holistic and interdisciplinary approaches, and through legal and non-legal advocacy, is a core component of contemporary approaches to advocacy on behalf of the poor.  A central feature of their work is building “a comprehensive network of service providers” to help ameliorate their client’s myriad issues. 

Many of these skills are not unique to the problem of immigrant communities: this style of interdisciplinary representation is at the core the holistic representation of indigent, addicted, mentally ill, and otherwise at-risk clients.

As I did yesterday, I thought I’d let Nicole Cortés of the MICA Project describe who they are and what they do in her own words:

The MICA Project was founded in 2011 by law students Nicole Cortés and Jessica Mayo.  The MICA Project addresses unmet need in immigrant communities by utilizing an innovative combination of strategies to promote the voice and dignity of immigrants.  First, the MICA Project provides outreach to immigrant communities, including educational presentations, focus groups, and trainings.  This helps to address the surplus need in immigrant communities by taking a proactive approach, providing immigrants with the information and resources they need before legal issues arise.  Second, the MICA Project provides client-centered legal representation to immigrants who need an attorney for issues related to their immigration status.  Finally, the MICA Project utilizes a comprehensive social service network with which it addresses immigrants’ needs that fall outside the area of legal services.

Jessica and I both had been committed to and passionate about serving the immigrant community and came to law school with this motivation. Through our work in the nonprofit immigration field, we observed a surplus need for legal services that the existing nonprofits were unable to meet.   People were turned away because of their income level (e.g. working poor or lower middle class), geographic location (across the river in Illinois), or legal status.  We felt there was a niche to be filled and formed the MICA Project in response to that.

We started by confirming with the existing providers what our impressions were about need.  With their support, we came in as a collaborator rather than a competitor.  We had both taken a "Nonprofit Planning and Drafting" course in law school and worked with that professor and other mentors to incorporate as a nonprofit.  After that, we dedicated our last year of grad school to working on our business plan and fundraising to make the project a reality.

Jessica and I both came to law school with a passion-- to work WITH people who seek justice.  Therefore, in regards to coursework, the really helpful parts of law school were those courses that fueled that passion.  Our Civil Rights and Community Justice clinic experience, Race Relations Law, and Critical Jurisprudence are a few examples of the kinds of classes that strengthened our commitment to the ideals behind the MICA Project and ultimately made us better prepared to confront issues of injustice in the real world.  The conversations we had in those classes helped us connect with like-minded peers and explore possibilities for social change through the practice of law.

Although the MICA Project charges fees on a sliding-scale, we do rely in part on grant funding to operate.  Funding is something all nonprofits must constantly think about and our project is no different.  We are in the process of seeking volunteers for grant-writing and other fundraising efforts which will allow us to focus on legal and community work.

As always, we appreciate support, financial or otherwise.  Also, spread the word to anyone you think might be interested-- be they students, potential clients or fellow practitioners.  

Posted by Eric Miller on February 28, 2013 at 02:44 PM | Permalink

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As a student and a frequent reader of prawfsblawg, I really appreciate this series. It is fantastic and inspiring to see what law students and recent graduates are doing with their degrees. Thank you, and best of luck to the students you have posted about already and (hopefully!) will post about in the future.

Posted by: Lauren | Mar 2, 2013 12:03:45 PM

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