Today our Class of 2022 Fellows officially begin their Fellowships! Before joining their host organizations, every new class begins with three weeks of intensive training designed to prepare them with the tools and expertise they need to best serve their clients. Below is a transcript of IJC Executive Director Jojo Annobil’s welcoming remarks to our newest and biggest-ever cohort of Fellows.
Fellows, we are delighted to have you join IJC. I am especially excited about your cohort, because you are the largest class of Fellows in IJC’s nine-year history! This is not a coincidence. We have recruited our biggest-ever class because the need for quality counsel in immigration has never been greater. That is why I am honored that you have chosen to bring your passion, talent, and empathy to bear on this country’s acute representation crisis in immigration.
You join IJC and the immigration community when the challenges we face as immigration advocates are formidable. As I am sure you know, there are currently 1.8 million immigrants – including children, families, asylum seekers and long-time residents – in removal proceedings. Another eleven million undocumented immigrants are eligible to change their status. Many of these individuals and families have viable claims. Without legal assistance they cannot navigate the unfair and tortious immigration system on their own. The situation is dire for immigrants in detention, many of whom lack counsel and are forced to give up viable claims because of deplorable conditions in immigration detention
While the current administration introduced promising comprehensive immigration reform last year, the bill is languishing due to congressional gridlock. Meanwhile, a humanitarian crisis continues to rage on our southern border, and instead of providing asylum seekers with the support they need, the governors of Texas and Arizona are cruelly bussing vulnerable families to the East Coast to score cheap political points.
It is easy for us to get discouraged in our line of work. However, in my welcome remarks to you, I want to focus on the possibility of now. There are opportunities for expanding access to immigrant justice while supporting efforts to abolish detention and establish a humane and just immigration system. For the past eight years, IJC and our partners have helped build momentum towards universal representation, a future where every single immigrant has access to quality counsel and is treated with dignity and respect. We have made great strides towards that end. In our recent partnership with the CAIR Coalition in Maryland, for example, we have developed an innovative model of representation through infusion of larger numbers of Fellows in a particular geography. That partnership helped advocates in Maryland end detention in Maryland and unlocked state funding of $3.2 million to provide statewide representation to all detained Maryland residents. We are working to replicate this infusion model in less resourced geographies across the country, but it only works when we have passionate, talented, advocates like yourselves. For our clients, you are the only lifeline to free quality representation and a life worth living.
As the late Judge Robert A. Katzmann, IJC’s founder, envisaged, you are the next generation of immigration advocates, lawyers, and policy makers who will help change the immigration system. Judge Katzmann’s vision is alive in the network of over 280 IJC Fellows and alumni you are joining today. Since IJC opened its doors in 2014, our Fellows have supported over 90,000 immigrants and their families, with a case success rate of over 90 percent. Over 90 percent of our alumni continue to practice immigration law long after they leave IJC. 100% of our Justice Fellows from our inaugural class are working in the immigration field. Across the country, our Fellows are upholding a vision of America that lives up to its promise of justice and liberty for all.
This is the community you are joining. You are part of an ambitious endeavor to bring quality counsel to underrepresented immigrant communities. I know that the bonds you will form with your Fellows will continue to live on as you work to make this country a better place. This network is what makes IJC so special. When the work gets hard – and it will get hard – remember that you are not alone. We are in this together. Your classmates will be your lifeline, a source of support, guidance, learning, and strength. Reach out to one another. Share your stories. Of course, IJC staff and your host organizations will also support you. The late Judge Katzmann imagined a community of advocates working together to reform an unjust and unfair system. You are that community.
You will have many opportunities to make a difference in immigrants’ lives. There will be highs and lows, but I promise you that the highs will be more than the lows. Immigrant rights work is challenging but fulfilling. The stakes are high, that is why I want you all to make a promise to yourselves to prioritize your mental health and inner wellbeing. Wellbeing inspires welldoing and has a positive ripple effect on innovation, collaboration, and social impact.
Carve out time for yourself and your loved ones. Take breaks from the work. Set boundaries. The work will always be there. Take vacations. Take advantage of wellness resources at your host organizations. We also provide all of our Fellows with Headspace, the mindfulness app, and make available group therapy sessions. We will check in with you regularly to find out how you are prioritizing your mental health.
I cannot tell you how excited we all are that you heard our call to service:
Because hope depends on justice
Because fairness needs a champion and
Because representation demands a voice.
Thank you again, and welcome to IJC!