Sowing Seeds of Justice
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law may seem an unlikely host for the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic (FLAC), but one in ten jobs in Pennsylvania is in the agriculture industry. Villanova is located just an hour away from Kennett Square, the “mushroom capital of the world,” and a few hours’ drive from central Pennsylvania’s apple and peach orchards. In terms of mission, the fit is perfect.
Rooted in its Augustinian heritage, Villanova Law believes in the dignity of every human person. Consistent with that mission, FLAC offers free legal services to low-wage agricultural workers and their families across the region. The first clinic in the country dedicated to farmworkers, FLAC provides much-needed pro bono legal representation to marginalized workers living and working in rural areas of Pennsylvania in industries ranging from mushrooms to apples to dairy farms to meat production. Many cases allow students to argue before an adjudicator or their hone negotiating skills. While providing an important service to the community, the Clinic supports students in developing their professional identities as future lawyers.
In addition to individual legal representation, the clinic works with community-led organizations to provide legal support for human rights campaigns impacting farmworkers throughout the academic year. Law students have provided legal support for organizations seeking to close immigrant detention centers and offer driver licenses for all Pennsylvania residents regardless of immigration status, in addition to offering community education workshops for youth and adults at community centers that serve farmworkers and their families.
To overcome language barriers between student-lawyers and clients, Villanova has a course-internship for Spanish students from the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Interns learn community interpreter skills and apply them in the clinic.
“Our students play a key role in empowering clients with limited English proficiency while serving as interpreters,” said Raúl Diego Rivera Hernández, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Director of the Latin American Studies program. “The internship was created to tackle the language barrier that inhibits their access to legal services.”
Clinic director Caitlin Barry appreciates teaching at an institution with strong social justice values. “Our clients deserve to have their human rights respected—their rights to be adequately compensated for their labor, to build strong and stable communities, to have their voices heard and valued. Our students work hard to protect those rights.”