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Sowing Seeds of Justice

migrant worker

In the 1980s, license plates from Erie to Philadelphia proclaimed, “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.” Today, the Keystone State’s farmworkers confidently affirm, “We’ve got a friend in Villanova.”

Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law may seem an unlikely host for the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic, but Villanova is located just a half hour away from Kennett Square, the “mushroom capital of the world,” and within a day’s drive of 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 the every human person. Consistent with that mission, the Farmworker Clinic offers free legal services to low-wage laborers seeking to assert their rights as workers, or who are fighting their deportation from the United States. It was also the first farmworker legal clinic in the country. Many cases allow students to argue before an adjudicator and 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 partners to empower Pennsylvania’s migrant communities. In the fall semester, the Clinic works with Friends of Farmworkers and Philadelphia Legal Aid to conduct outreach throughout central Pennsylvania, including visits to labor camps on apple orchards and community events where workers can receive information about their legal rights. The Clinic also works with community-led organizations to provide legal support for human rights campaigns impacting farmworkers throughout the academic year.

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.

“It is a win-win situation,” said Mercedes Juliá, a Professor in the University’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures who help set up the internship. “We are part of an interdisciplinary effort and help a community in need while our students practice their language skills.”

Clinic Director Caitlin Barry appreciates teaching at an institution that 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.”

To learn more about Villanova Law’s six in-house clinics, click here.