A team of University of Iowa law students, operating in the College of Law’s legal clinic, has worked to bring security to the immigrant community in Iowa City, Coralville, and beyond during a time of uncertainty.
Safe Futures has worked since the 2017 spring semester with undocumented immigrants in the area to plan certain aspects of their life, including finances and childcare in the event one or both parents are detained or deported. Third-year law student Amber Mahoney said the members plan for any aspect their clients would not be able to control after deportation.
This semester, the group works with six clients; there is a waiting list for next semester.
Allison Goertz, who has been with the project since the beginning, said that before the group was founded, tensions and uncertainty were rising concerning the future of immigrants around the country. In the Iowa City area, immigrants were being urged to quickly sign documents called “power of attorney” documents.
Goertz said people were signing these documents without being counseled on what the agreements mean. Additionally, signees were being charged large sums of money for documents that the Safe Futures team could write up and obtain for free. Mahoney said it felt as though the people were being scammed or exploited.
“I just don’t think people were prepared for the amount of change that occurred so quickly,” said Carrington Buze, who was a social worker before going to law school. “Where people were forced to go into crisis mode rather than having a plan or a regular course of action that was historically followed.”
The power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person to act on another’s behalf. Because the document holds that kind of power, one of the objectives of Safe Futures is to put a limit on what that document can do. Goertz said the group tries to limit that power by writing the documents to reflect specific situations.
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“We’re trying to counsel and walk with clients through a really fearful scary thing that we’d all rather not think about, but at the end of the day, we do want to be prepared for,” Goertz said.
Elizabeth Urena said that being from the Los Angeles area, where there is a presence of an undocumented immigrant community facing the same fears she sees in Iowa City, motivated her to join the group.
Group member Evan McCarthy was drawn to this initiative because of his interest in immigration law; he plans to be an immigration lawyer in the future. He said the climate that necessitates Safe Futures’ existence is not unique to Iowa City, it is a national issue.
“Even before Trump, our immigration system has not been humane for some time,” McCarthy said. “I think one of the cruelest things that has come out of the newest administration is that so many people are living in fear and that there is no certainty in almost any situation.”