A hot two weeks spent near the Mexico border during the summer after her first year of law school made such an impact on Anne Sovcik (`05) that it shaped the focus of the rest of her legal education and the field of law she pursues today.
As advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, located one block from the United States Capitol, Sovcik is immersed in U.S. policy and laws and how they impact people seeking asylum in the U.S. She works on many levels to change policy and law to better serve and protect asylum seekers, meeting regularly with congressional offices and representatives from the Department of Justice, State and Homeland Security.
Sovcik, a Santa Fe native, had long been interested in human rights before she arrived at the UNM School of Law in 2002; her mother was a public school teacher and her father worked on environmental issues for the National Park Service.
“I was raised in a house that valued working on things you believe in and care about, that there is a quality in a job and life that can’t be bought in monetary awards,” she says.
After earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Denver, she taught English in Shanghai, China, for a year. In fact, she had planned to return after her first year of law school, but the SARS virus was spreading and the program she had signed up for in Shanghai was canceled.
Sovcik headed to Harlingen, Texas, instead. With three law-school colleagues, she drove 18 hours to spend a two-week externship assisting the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Project. They did research and represented clients held at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, an immigrant detention facility near the Mexico border.
“It was eye-opening; so shocking and offensive to see the situations people were in and how unjust the laws in the United States are for dealing with them,” she says. “This experience gripped me and I never looked back; I became interested in immigration policy and other policies for people fleeing conflict and oppressive governments.”
Back at the law school, Sovcik connected with Professor Jenny Moore, taking Moore’s Refugee Law class and initiating her own independent study in refugee policy under Moore’s guidance. Sovcik spent her final law-school semester as an intern with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Washington, D.C.
In the Community Lawyering Clinic, where she was supervised by Professor April Land, Sovcik worked on an ombudsman project with the ACLU of New Mexico. She visited a number of juvenile detention facilities, looking at the facilities and the relationships between inmates and staff.
“We talked to the kids held there and wrote up reports on their experiences,” she says. “All of that taught me so much about what the goals of a rehab-detention center might be, and then how to engage with state government, which was interested in improving the system. It’s interesting how this parallels the work I’m doing now related to reforming the immigration detention system.”
Following graduation in 2005, Sovcik joined Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, where she coordinated a program for child victims of human trafficking. After a year, she was promoted to the legal department and began focusing on asylum policy and broader immigration issues.
A year later, she returned to Washington, D.C., to take her current job.
“I really enjoy policy work, though it can be frustrating at times: it’s hard to tangibly see the fruits of my labor,” she says. “It’s important to remind myself that, as a human rights organization, we are a voice that needs to be in the mix.”
On the other hand, Sovcik enjoys working on an issue that she strongly believes in, embracing the values of her childhood.
“There’s a good match between what my skills and job demands are,” she says. “And I enjoy the people I work with so much; they have great energy and bring a lot of heart to the work they are doing.”
Still, she misses New Mexico, its skies, sunsets and space. And she appreciates the mentoring she found at the UNM School of Law.
“UNM provides some great support because of the professors there. I am thankful for the role Professor Moore played in my life and development as a student and as a professional,” Sovcik says. “In some ways, I was unique in the interests I developed and for which I received great support. At another law school, I might have been one of 100 with that interest.”