This is the twenty-first installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet Elsa Mota, former member of the IRAP chapter at Yale Law School, and current Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The views expressed here are entirely her own.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
I was really eager to get started on direct representation of clients. Luckily for me, Yale allows 1Ls to sign up for clinics during their second semester. Since I was interested in becoming an immigration lawyer, IRAP was an obvious choice that piqued my interest. Additionally, I wanted to get a different perspective on immigration. Being from Miami, a largely Latinx area of the United States, my experience with immigration law and cases was mostly about family migration or special programs for Caribbean and South American individuals. My only familiarity with refugee law and people who were displaced was through the news. I wanted to learn more about this group and help them achieve status and reach safer conditions from afar. I knew it would be a challenge for me as I would be working with people from lands far different than my own. IRAP impacted my law school experience by really jump-starting my legal education: I worked with another student, pro bono partners, a translator, and our client. The skills I learned in that semester I still utilize until this day.
IRAP’s law school chapter members provide aid to our clients and support for our legal, litigation, and policy advocacy initiatives. Please describe your experience working on IRAP projects to secure and expand pathways to safety for displaced people.
The case I was assigned lasted the entire semester. We offered support to an individual who had already migrated to a second country and was looking for refuge in a third. It was a challenging case that ultimately ended in the client deciding to remain in the second country.
What have you been doing since you graduated from law school?
I graduated in 2020 (which was a stressful year for reasons familiar to all). Since then I have been working as a Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. As a Fellow I specialize in fighting against abusive immigration practices, police misconduct, mass incarceration, and racial injustice. I’ve worked on cases that challenge the metering policy at the U.S./Mexico border, public charge, COVID prison litigation, Compassionate Release for incarcerated persons, and FOIA litigation in the racist removal of Cameroonian immigrants.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
IRAP set the stage for me to pursue my interests in immigration law. My second summer internship was at the Bronx Defenders Immigration practice where I represented asylum clients and I made sure that my fellowship would include an immigration docket so I could continue to help and empower a community I care deeply about.
At a time when refugees have been more politicized than ever, how do you engage with the issue on a personal level?
It’s important to remember that immigration is not a standalone issue. Especially now in seeing a clear disparity in how Ukrainian refugees are being received compared to Black migrants, I hold true to certain values when it comes to refugees and migrants in general: everyone deserves the opportunity to be safe and prosper. We must call out and address the racism, homophobia, sexism, and ableism that emerge through this system.