Tamara Shamir Fights to Change a Broken Immigration System as a TCRP Law Clerk
A couple of years ago, I wrote an agonizingly earnest law school application essay detailing the immeasurable inspiration I drew from working as a paralegal for immigrant kids and families—years of working in a broken immigration system had left me with a deep unease. “While I believe in the power of direct representation—guiding an individual through an opaque and asymmetrical system—I am also wary of its limitations”, I wrote, “I have witnessed too many clients suffer under unjust laws to believe that it is enough to navigate the system without challenging its foundations.”
This summer, I got to try my hand at the kind of work that drove me to attend law school: advocating for systemic change of our broken legal system. I witnessed the complexities, frustrations, and aspirations of lawyering on a systemic level. Most importantly, I joined a team deeply rooted in the community and intensely thoughtful about the role of lawyers and lawyering in the larger immigrant justice movement.
Mural with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in TCRP Alamos office (Rio Grande Valley).
TCRP is one of the few legal organizations of its kind that listens to the concerns voiced by those living in border communities. The organization, which has a badass team in the Rio Grande Valley, is not only unusually willing but also unusually capable of moving towards the elusive ideal of community lawyering—a term often used but rarely practiced. The practice of community lawyering is messy and at times ambiguous (I continue to struggle with the questions of who speaks for a community and how), but TCRP is committed to figuring it out.
My first assignment as a summer clerk was drafting an administrative civil rights complaint regarding Border Patrol’s mishandling and arbitrary removal of the pets of those in its custody. I didn’t initially grasp the full significance of the project—I may have been distracted by the sheer cuteness of the lost (read: stolen) dog—but I understand its shrewdness now. Bringing a complaint for young asylum seekers separated from their dogs is not only a part of holding CBP accountable—of fighting in every corner to counter unseen abuses—but also embodies the kind of responsive and people-centered lawyering project that TCRP is uniquely positioned to undertake. All the work I was lucky enough to join—from holding CBP legally accountable for the deaths caused by its unsafe detention conditions to crafting a claim against CBP for violating the rights of disabled individuals seeking asylum—carefully considered the people and communities involved. All of it put the personal in front of an isolated and inanimate conception of the “law.”
As a law student with a fiercely ambivalent relationship with lawyering, it was a relief to see lawyers on the front lines of a movement I believe in. The difficulty of obtaining legal victories for immigrants’ rights within the Texas court systems was not lost on me—but neither was the force of the movement, including and extending well beyond its lawyers. What moved me most this summer was the massive infrastructure of human energy, empathy, care, and work at the border—which TCRP is a small but effective part of.
Beyond Borders Team dinner in McAllen, Texas.
Working for civil rights at the border in any capacity is not easy. Every week presents a new horror, from the enshrinement of border over-policing in the legislature to news of Texas Troopers instructed to drown children in the river.
But I didn’t doubt my decision to enter this work before the summer, and I certainly don’t now. Not many people are fortunate enough to get to do the work they most deeply and fervently believe in. This summer, I was lucky enough to do it with a highly skilled and immoderately generous Beyond Borders team.
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