Two Columbia Law School students focusing on distinct areas of public service will soon embark on legal careers serving their local and international communities.
After graduating this May, Yasmin Dagne and José Miranda will participate in the Leonard H. Sandler Fellowship at the Humans Rights Watch (HRW) and the Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship at Catholic Migration Services, respectively. Both students are among a group of seven Columbia law students selected for prestigious public law fellowships.
“If it’s just one person that you can help out, then I think that that is a great and universal service,” said Dagne. “I don’t think you can measure public service by number of people helped or amount of money given, but I think it’s sort of an ethos that instructs your work and how you think about your work.”
Dagne will be investigating human rights abuses in her year-long fellowship at HRW. Her work will build on the knowledge she gleaned from her constitutional, administrative and immigration law courses, internships with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and U.S. District Court and her experience working at the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia.
The experience working in the clinic “had a great impact on my outlook on the human rights community,” she said. It exposed her to a number of advocates who demonstrated innovative ways to address and conduct the “grunt work” – interviews, translations, field research – of being a human rights lawyer and supporter. “It was a great marriage of both the theory and actual practice.”
Throughout her public service work, Dagne has taken seriously the gravity of the role she will assume as a human rights lawyer.
“Anyone who works in these areas, you have to recognize that the job that you have is because there is a grave injustice somewhere in the world” or “literally streets away from us,” Dagne said.
Her commitment to public service will come full circle once she begins the fellowship at HRW, where she will work with a team of top-tier human rights lawyers and investigators.
“There’s great honor that comes with someone trusting you to take their story and tell it to the world, essentially,” Dagne said. “You want to do it in a way that honors the people with whom you’re working that also advances their needs and their causes as efficiently and persuasively as possible.”
Like Dagne, public service has always been a part of Miranda’s life — through the Boy Scouts of America, at his high school where the motto is “Men and women for others” and from interactions with the zealous social justice advocates he met while in law school.
As the son of immigrants from Ecuador, Miranda said he developed an “intimate understanding of the injustices faced by marginalized communities.” He carried this understanding to Columbia Law School, holding internships at Bronx Legal Services (BXLS) and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, in addition to an externship at the Center for Popular Democracy.
Following the election of President Trump, Miranda set out to make a difference after his concerns grew about the lack of access to counsel and threats to privacy rights for immigrant communities.
The two resulting pro bono projects that he coordinated at BXLS mobilized his peers to help screen 90 Bronx residents needing immigration services. Miranda also recruited other law students and BXLS attorneys to help families draft documents such as power of attorney forms and guardianship petitions.
“It remains incumbent upon those of us who have the power to do so to come together and take a stand for the rights of not only immigrants, but all marginalized communities,” Miranda said.
The Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow is now looking forward to working with the experienced advocates at Catholic Migration Services (CMS) and learning as much as possible about the major legal issues facing immigrant communities during his two-year fellowship.
“Given that CMS has direct ties to immigrant communities through the Catholic Church, I also hope to engage in organizing communities around legal issues at the grassroots level,” he added.
Ultimately, Miranda views himself and his contributions as a part of a “long struggle for freedom,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what kind of impact my work as a lawyer will have, but if it makes even a small dent in the vast structural inequalities we face today, then I would be happy I did my part.”
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.