This is the third of a three-part series sharing individual NMILC staff member’s views related to border issues. Part 1 discussed a trip to a youth “shelter” located at the Mexico-US border, and Part 2 shared one employee’s views from a tour of the border with a Customs and Border Patrol officer. The views expressed herein are those of individual NMILC staff members and may not necessarily reflect the views of the organization as a whole.
NMILC attorney Rebekah Wolf was born and raised in Santa Fe, NM. After studying at NYU, Rebekah moved to Palestine full-time for five years and founded The Palestine Solidarity Project. She moved back to the US in 2011 and attended law school at University of California-Hastings. She joined NMILC in October 2016 as an Equal Justice Works justiceAmeriCorps fellow. She currently lives in Santa Fe with her daughter Rafeef. Legal assistant Zoe Bowman sat down with Rebekah to discuss her previous work in Palestine and how it relates to her work at NMILC.
Tell me a little about the work that you do at NMILC.
I provide direct legal services to unaccompanied children in immigration court, I’m the pro bono attorney coordinator, and I’m one of the coordinators in the Cibola Program for Access to Legal Services.
What you were doing in Palestine?
I ran a human rights organization that incorporated international volunteers as trained observers in documenting and publicizing human rights violations in the Palestinian territories. In addition to reporting we also had campaigns and advocacy projects around political prisoners and the building of the Annexation Wall. It was similar to the campaign tactics used here against the wall and immigrant detention. A huge part is reporting on it so people gain a better understanding of what is happening on the ground.
I did that work for about 10 years. Palestine Solidarity Project is, located in Beit Ommar, a village outside of Bethlehem, and is still going strong.
What stuck out to you or concerned you during the Mexico-US border tour?
In Palestine, the wall that is built in the West Bank separates it from Israel, and exists in the context of a military occupation that an overwhelming majority of countries believe is not in compliance with international law. When you see the same level of militarization here at the US-Mexico border in El Paso, it’s shocking because people conceptualize the border and the wall on the border as a benign structure, like ‘good walls make good neighbors’. In reality, it has a police force that is acting like a military force. When a military is enforcing civilian law, that has grave consequences. You can see that in Palestine and on the border here.
How did your experience working in the field of human rights in Palestine influence your desire to study immigration law in the US?
I moved back here [Santa Fe] because I was born and raised in New Mexico, and part of human rights work is figuring out where you would be the most useful–I figured I could do really good human rights work in my own community. I went to law school because the law is one tool to enforce human rights, and it was a tool I felt comfortable using. In the fight for human rights we have to use as many different tools as possible.
Doing work for immigrant communities is fundamentally a human rights issue. It’s about how we as a society treat people, whether we are acting in a way so that their dignity and integrity remain intact. A huge part of doing this work [human rights] is drawing attention to what is happening in communities outside the view of the wider public. Human rights violations occur when governments think no one is watching.
How do you see the work that you do at NMILC as a continuation of your human rights work?
The Immigration Corps project that I’m working on with Equal Justice Works has been an amazing experience. The project is designed to engage the immigrant community–not just as people we’re providing services to, but also as a way for immigrants to enter the legal profession and have more agency in the services we provide. I think that this model for human rights work is the most effective. We’re not treating the immigrant community as outsiders, but engaging the people we serve, and hopefully empowering them to advocate for themselves.