Serving Detained Immigrants

Following graduation from Goshen College and a year of service with Mennonite Central Committee in Brazil, Laura Rheinheimer (’01) considered putting her history degree (with minors in Spanish, international studies, and peace, justice, and conflict studies) to use in law school, but also wanted to continue working with people from other cultures. Through Mennonite Voluntary Service she found a position with ProBAR, a legal aid office serving detained immigrants in Harlingen, Texas, that has given her legal and crosscultural experience.

Laura began working as a paralegal, primarily helping Somali asylum-seekers know their legal rights and fill out applications. In July 2008 she began working with children, mainly boys from Central America—their artwork lines her office (see photo above). Laura enjoys building personal relationships with her clients, but finds their stories sometimes difficult to hear—stories of severe domestic abuse, attacks by gangs, and life in the street

During this past year Laura became an accredited representative which allows her to represent immigrants in proceedings, both in court and in interviews. She still considers whether to go to law school, but is committed to continue working with ProBAR for another year. She says, “Law fascinates me, and I think I might be able to help [immigrants] more as a lawyer. But my favorite part of my job is direct contact with clients. Some days I want to be a lawyer; some days I want to be a counselor.”

—adapted partly from article by Matt Harms in June 2009 Goshen College History Department Newsletter