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Law Students Visit Puerto Rico 8 Months After Hurricane Maria

Wednesday, June 13, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Antonio A. Camacho
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For a second time, 11 law students from both the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) and Western New England School of Law (WNE) traveled to Puerto Rico to learn about the legal issues affecting the country and the colonial relationship that exists between the United States and Puerto Rico.

Students spent a week with the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico (UIPR) learning about Puerto Rico’s legal history, the difference between common law and civil code jurisprudence, human rights and rebellious lawyering to promote community development. The United States, through its Congressional Oversight Board and the Territory Clause, have complete and plenary power over Puerto Rico’s affairs without the citizens’ consent.

Led by knowledgeable and passionate law professors from UIPR, these students also learned about human rights affecting Puerto Rico. According to UIPR human rights professor Annette Martínez Orabona, “Its citizens have been forcibly displaced to the U.S., a migration that began before Hurricane Maria.” Prof. Martínez Orabona has argued on behalf of Puerto Rico before the Organization of American States and is a prominent opposer of the national gentrification affecting Puerto Rico.

The students also visited Puerta de Tierra in Old San Juan, “a community whose residents struggle to fight against gentrification, forced displacement and promote community development and outreach,” said professor of clinical and community development professor at UIPR Myrta Morales.

In addition to legal history and current events, these students learned about the Insular Cases, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions that “racially discriminate against Puerto Rico and the citizens who live therein,” said UIPR Prof. Jorge Farinacci Fernos. “This course has been life changing” said Tara K. Morrison, 2nd year law student at Western New England.

UDC Law student Efrem Gibson said, “I was amazed at how naïve and uninformed we are as Americans to the plight and struggle of Puerto Rico. Behind the tourism and the beautiful scenery, we can see there’s a struggle. It’s a forgotten terrain. We know a lot about slavery and the history of the Native Americans, but Puerto Rico is a form of oppression in American history that we don’t talk about enough.”

The students also met Judge Daniel R. Dominguez, a Senior U.S. District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. This Federal District Court conducts its proceedings in English despite being located in an area where its residents primarily speak Spanish and, although American-born citizens, cannot vote for the President of the United States and have no voting representation in Congress.

Inter-American University School of Law Dean Julio Fontanet Maldonado spoke about the dark side of justice, the wrongful conviction of innocent people. Through the Innocent Project, Dean Fontanet Maldonado, a prominent criminal defense attorney, represented and exonerated Nelson Ruiz Colón, who served 22 years of life sentence for a crime he did not commit.

UDC Law student leaders Margarita Varela and Antonio A. Camacho and WNE student Chiedza Rodriguez organized this two-credit turbo course for their respective universities.

Group photo in front of courthouse
Outside the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico in Old San Juan. Front, left to right: Maria Suarez (UDC Law), Tara K. Morrison (WNE), Chiedza Rodriguez (WNE), Antonio A. Camacho (UDC Law), Veronice Santana (WNE), Claribel Morales (WNE), and Kathy Torres (WNE). Back, left to right: Crystal Adams (UDC Law), Tina Budzisz (UDC Law), Breanna Jones (UDC Law), and Efrem Gibson (UDC Law).

Small group discussionSpeaking to Community Leaders in Puerta de Tierra in Old San Juan.

Beach at sunsetSunset in Puerto Rico.

Two students in front of IUPR law school buildingMaria Suarez and Antonio A. Camacho from UDC Law.

Small group discussionBreanna Jones and Tina Budzisz from UDC Law listen to Community leaders in Puerta de Tierra, Puerto Rico.


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