BY SARA BOBOLTZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 12, 2010
The University Law School recently received a $300,000 grant to expand its work fighting human trafficking to the international arena.
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The grant comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and it will be used to help the Law School open a clinic in Zacatecas, Mexico that will accept cases dealing with human trafficking. The clinic’s structure will be modeled after the University’s existing Law School Human Trafficking Clinic, which was launched in 2009 as the first clinic of its kind, according to a press release distributed last week.
Bridgette Carr, the clinic’s director, said in the press release that the grant will enable the clinic to extend the work law students do in Ann Arbor to the international level.
"By awarding us the grant, the State Department acknowledged that the success of our clinic could be replicated elsewhere," Carr said in the press release. "We're excited about this new venture and look forward to helping victims in Mexico."
Establishing the clinic will require a combined effort from the University of Michigan, the law school Unidad Académica de Derecho at the Universidad de Autónoma de Zacatecas and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., a non-governmental organization that aims to promote awareness of workplace rights in the United States for migrant workers.
Stephen Warnath, director of the NEXUS Institute, an anti-human trafficking organization based in Washington D.C., will also act as a partner on the project. Warnath will help analyze the success of the project at its completion, according to clinical fellow Meredith Weill, who is assisting with the project.
Several University law students will accompany Carr and Weill to Mexico, where the group will train students and faculty from the Universidad de Autónoma de Zacatecas and help with various cases.
Weill said that though the group will draw on lessons learned from the University’s human trafficking clinic, the new clinic won’t be identical. Instead the clinic will be largely in the hands of the Mexican institutions.
“We’re not exporting American clinical education,” Weill said. “The idea is that we have expertise, we’ll be a resource for them, we’ll advise, and we can provide academic materials.”
Students working at the clinic will have an opportunity to both learn about and advocate for the rights of victims of human trafficking. As defined by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, human trafficking includes “the activities involved when someone obtains or holds a person in compelled service” like forced labor, debt bondage, sex trafficking or involuntary domestic servitude.
Zacatecas was chosen as the site for the future clinic in part because the University’s Law School has worked with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in the past. Details of the project are still being discussed, and it has not yet been determined when the group will travel to Mexico or how long it will take to set up the new clinic, Weill said.
Ideally, the students and faculty will raise awareness of human trafficking problems in the area, train local private attorneys to recognize specific examples and teach them how to take action, she said.
Since laws addressing human trafficking are relatively recent, many within the legal community are not aware of their specific implications. Because of this, Weill said, educating upcoming lawyers on this issue is important.
“A lot of times, because the law is so new, people who have been in practice for a while don’t know much about how it works — they don’t have training in trafficking law,” Weill said.
According to Weill, clinics like the one at the University allow law students to work under licensed faculty members on actual cases, thus gaining practical experience in the field.