Even in the face of overwhelming adversity, there is always potential for change, and University of Utah law student Amitay Flores knows this well. For Flores, change appeared in the form of a trip to a border detention center with 10 law students and two professors.
In these detention centers, it’s rare that asylum seekers have access to legal representation. Immigration charges aren’t criminal, therefore the government is not required to provide attorneys if people can’t afford them, leaving many people to navigate a foreign legal system — often in a foreign language — alone. Flores and her team worked for a week in March 2020, assisting roughly 50 adults with legal matters, providing invaluable experience for the students and much-needed assistance to asylum seekers.
“It seems like the whole system is set up to create as many obstacles and barriers as possible so that these individuals won’t be able to remain in the United States,” Flores said. “You can read as many articles, you can watch as many documentaries as you want, but it’s not until you’re there hearing their stories from these individuals firsthand that it really just hits you what’s going on and how sad it is.”
With a future in immigration law, Flores found herself searching for more opportunities outside the U’s available courses. When she had exhausted those, Flores began organizing herself. The trip was completely outside of the U’s influence, sponsored by the Student Immigration Law Association, of which Flores was the sitting president of at the time.
“I want to show students you don’t have to have the opportunity offered to you — you can make the opportunity happen. If you see something going on, and it moves you or you’re completely against it, go do something about it,” Flores said. “We don’t need permission to enact change, and that was something that I really wanted to show through this trip.”
Find this article and a lot more in the 2021 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.