By: Caitlin Mudra ‘23
This summer I had the privilege of working alongside the legal team at Neighbors Link. Neighbors Link works to strengthen the community through the healthy integration of immigrants. They work towards this mission through their Community Law Practice, but also through the deployment of many other empowerment programs. These programs include English as a Second Language (ESL) education, legal services and advocacy, workforce development, parent education, early childhood programs and academic support for school-age children of immigrants.
After my time at Neighbors Link, I believe that the future of non-profit representation of immigration clients, and most likely all indigent defense work, lies in a multi-level support structure. This approach has been implemented at Neighbors Link. Client support for refugee/asylum seekers and removal defense proves to be challenging in many ways. Each legal case ultimately involves a person or family, who after moving to a foreign place (that may present itself as hostile) is faced with navigating the many bureaucratic systems. The job of assisting clients in this position is a difficult, if not impossible, task for an attorney to take on alone. When there is a built-in support structure, attorneys can email colleagues for help. Clients may need to be referred to social workers or outside non-profits for finding specific and sometimes urgent non-legal support. In this system, an attorney can simply e-mail a colleague to be able to find resources to complement the attorney’s role. This multi-level support structure works for the benefit of the attorney and the client as well. It serves to expand availability of legal services to more vulnerable clientele. Positive outcomes for clients include having childcare services during meetings or being directly and promptly referred to potential employment opportunities or language interpretation services.
Overall, the legal profession is moving towards a more sustainable work-life balance. This model of providing free legal service serves to improve the work being done by attorneys by lessening their workload while increasing the resources they can offer to under-served communities.
In closing, I am excited to see the future of immigration law develop not only in the Hudson Valley region but across the United States, through the hard work of public interest lawyers like those working at Neighbors Link Community Law Practice. I would like to thank the donors who fund the Joseph Antonecchia Memorial Fellowship and the University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship for awarding me the Joseph Antonecchia Fellowship Award. Without receiving this gracious award, I would not have been able to complete the necessary and enlightening work in public interest law that I so desired. I would also like to thank my supervising attorney Elizabeth Mastropolo and the entire legal department for being so helpful and welcoming this summer (even over Zoom!)
Name: Caitlin Mudra ’23
Name of Fellowship: Joseph Antonecchia Fellowship
Placement: Neighbors Link
Location: Mt. Kisco, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I believe that the future of non-profit representation of immigration clients, and most likely all indigent defense work, lies in a multi-level support structure.”