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Service learning course featured in The Stanford Daily

Maya Mahony, the author of the Stanford Daily article
Feb 27 2020

By Isabel Vasquez, Student Assistant.


The Stanford Daily recently published an opinion article by Maya Mahony describing her experience working with asylum-seeking families in Texas through a human rights course offered last fall. The course, HUMRTS 108 / SPANLANG 108: Spanish Immersion Service-Learning: Migration, Asylum, and Human Rights at the U.S.-Mexico Border, taught students about international human rights law, geopolitics in Latin America, and current U.S. immigration policies. This coursework was designed to help prepare students for a service-learning trip over winter break. At the end of the quarter, the students traveled to Dilley, Texas, to work as legal assistants for detained women and children seeking protection in the U.S.

In her article, Mahony provides a day-by-day breakdown of her experience in the family detention center in Dilley. She describes having to place her belongings through a security screening to ensure she was not bringing in any illicit items, such as cameras or crayons for the children. She discusses some of the cases she worked on. In explaining why her clients fled to the US, Mahony shares stories of mass kidnappings of children and of domestic violence that went ignored or even encouraged by police.

Despite the very real threats to their safety, Mahony’s clients were denied protection in the U.S. She describes how those negative decisions affected the group:

One of my classmates says he’s decided he needs to do something more important with his life than his engineering major has trained him for. One classmate says she’s always wanted to be a human rights lawyer but is now so devastated she doesn’t think she can do it. One long-time volunteer says this is the worst week she’s seen here. Just six months ago, before the new restrictions, all of these clients would have passed their credible fear interviews.”

While opening up the despair and the rage those policies fostered in the volunteers, Mahoney emphasizes that their experience lasted just one week. Throughout her article, she takes care to include snapshots of the children whose detention has lasted much longer. In reflecting on their impending deportations, Mahony tries to envision a different future:

“I try to focus on a bit of hope: maybe, if we spread the word, if we collectively demonstrate against these atrocities, if we raise money, if we work to elect a new president in a few months, things can change. I have to believe that change is possible.”

A new cohort of students will be traveling to Dilley this spring break, after participating in the winter quarter iteration of HUMRTS 108.