Remarks of 2017 BBA John G. Brooks awardee, GBLS attorney Anne Mackin

Good Evening,
 
President Starkey, members of the BBA, members of the Judiciary, Rep. Moulton, my GBLS and legal services colleagues, and all who have come this evening to celebrate Law Day.
 
Thank you, President Starkey, and the BBA for presenting me with the John G. Brooks Award.  Although this type of attention is galaxies outside of my personal comfort zone, I am humbled by your generous and kind remarks, and am truly grateful and honored that you chose me for this award. There are many of my colleagues here tonight and throughout the legal services community who do amazing legislative, social policy, class action and individual case work who are equally, if not more, deserving of this prestigious award.
 
I congratulate Attorney Elaine Herrmann Blais on her receipt of the Thurgood Marshall Award.  
 
I also wish to thank Jacqui Bowman, Dan Manning and Bob Sable for the privilege of working at GBLS, my wonderful immigration colleagues as well as my union colleagues, collaborators in other legal services programs and the private bar, and other friends who came to the dinner this evening.  
 
And last, but certainly not least, I wish to thank the members of the Judiciary who are here, who have listened empathically now to many stories of immigrant children, sometimes at the very last minute before an “age out” deadline, and who have assisted children in receiving the care, protection, and safety that they need.
 
I’m not sure what you were doing when you were 16, but I was taking driver’s ed in summer school. One day I heard at school that Hell’s Angels were going to ride down 1st Avenue, the main drag in my city, at some point that afternoon, about ten blocks away from where we lived.That afternoon I was confined to the front porch. I think about that now. I thought it was silly at the time, but now, having met many children who have faced true danger, it seems utterly ridiculous. I know now that my mother was protecting me as best she knew how from that perceived danger.
 
While working in the GBLS Immigration Unit, I have had the enormous privilege to meet people from all over the world. Of the many types of immigration work to be done, we focus on asylum, domestic violence, and work for children.  
 
We meet people who have witnessed and experienced unthinkable persecution and torture, those who have endured devastation from wars, or natural disasters, and those who suffered simply because of who they are as human beings, whether that be due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religious or political beliefs, or something else.  
 
I’ve met – 
 
Boys who have been brutally beaten and left for dead for their refusal to join gangs, and to kill other people;
 
Children who have been taunted because of their faith;
 
Children who have been shunned because of the color of their skin, or their indigenous heritage;  
 
Girls who have endured severe corporal punishment because that was the only type of discipline their parents’ experienced and knew how to pass on to them;  
 
Children who were bullied because of physical ailments and deformities;
 
Children who had to clean classrooms at school because they only spoke an indigenous language and not the language of their teacher;  
 
Children who have worked in market places and lived in the streets hoping to survive.  
 
I am continually amazed that children who have suffered severe abuse, abandonment, and neglect who, some at very young ages, have had the where-with-all to decide that to have a chance at life they had to leave the only home they’d ever known and somehow get to another country where they hoped to live in safety and pursue their dreams for themselves.  
 
They were not protected on their front porch.
 
Instead,
 
They rode the tops of freight trains, 
 
Walked for days, crossed rivers and mountains, survived the desert;
 
Endured arrest and detention;
 
And then joined someone – perhaps a friend or family member whom they did not know – to begin their new life in the U.S., all while facing removal proceedings and possible deportation back to the life they feared so much that they ran away.  
 
This is amazingly difficult for adults; for children, it seems unthinkable. I am regularly humbled and awed by what people survive, and the strength of the human spirit.  
 
Immigration work is dynamic. By definition, it is about who the INDIVIDUAL before you IS as a human being. It is deeply personal. You learn what she suffered and admire how she survived it.  
 
It is a unique partnership, requiring both vulnerability and trust.  
 
It puts your legal and personal skills to the test.
 
Eventually she relies on you at some level, as you walk with her on her path, and get to the place where she can tell her individual story.  
 
She MUST reveal who SHE IS, her actions and beliefs, in order to accomplish the goal of living in safety, with permanency.  
 
Through this process the door to a new phase of life can open, and she can enjoy the chance to grow her unique personal potential.  
 
But in the end, it is me, the advocate, who is enriched beyond measure and changed through the process.  There is no greater honor.  It is for the people who have trusted me, allowed me in to their lives, and to share their journeys, for whom I accept this award.
 
The biggest challenge in our work is that we cannot meet the great need for our services.  We get about five calls a week from kids and their caretakers seeking representation.  We cannot possibly take on representation of 10 – 20 new children every month.  
 
So I conclude by thanking the BBA for your enduring support of our work and making what we can do possible.  In these days that challenge our very democracy, we are hopeful that the work will continue, and that many who are here and yet to come will have the bright futures which they seek in a country that truly welcomes them, celebrates their diversity, and embraces all that they offer us.
 
Thank you so very much.