#ShutDownBaker: Immigration Clinic Students Travel to Central Florida Jail to Help Immigrants

Miami Law's Immigration Clinic traveled to Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, west of Jacksonville, to help detained men and women determine if they have defenses to deportation.
#ShutDownBaker: Immigration Clinic Students Travel to Central Florida Jail to Help Immigrants
Professor Rebecca Sharpless (second to end on right) with Miami Law students at the Baker County Detention Center

Under the supervision of clinic director Rebecca Sharpless, second-year clinic students Amelia Anderson, Isabella Gonzalez, Daphna Jimenez, Anthony Mena Acosta, Kelsey McGonigle, Gabriela Rivero, and Fiona Zhang and third-year student fellows Benjamin Brooks and Alejandra Gonzales met with 48 people over the day. A grant from The Florida Bar funded the trip.

Baker County Detention Center, a county jail, has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain approximately 200 men and women. A coalition of groups is petitioning for the jail's closure, citing physical abuse, poor conditions, and lack of appropriate medical care. 

"It was super rewarding to be able to go to Baker and participate in some of the 'front-line' work that's so necessary in immigration," said Rivero. "It felt great not only to screen individuals for relief, but also provide them with some 'normal' human interaction and kindness, which is something that detained immigrants unfortunately don't often get." 

As a result of the students' work at the jail, detained people without lawyers were advised whether they had a defense against deportation. The clinic entered its appearance to represent a man with a claim under the Convention Against Torture, and the clinic students summarized nine cases for referral to pro bono attorneys. 

"The clinic's trip to Baker was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in law school," said Mena Acosta. "Interviewing detained individuals and trying to find ways to help them in what is often one of the worst moments of their lives is deeply rewarding and a great experience.

"Although it is hard knowing that we are not able to help everyone, the moments in which we found individuals with viable cases and were able to provide them with legal advice, full representation, or a referral to other pro bono attorneys were wonderful. It is great to be able to leave the detention center knowing we made a difference," he said.

The clinic collaborates with other groups to provide legal assistance to people detained at Baker County Detention Center.

Read more about Miami Law's Immigration Clinic