Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
When we consider the steps we have taken toward justice in the United States, one of the aspects that seems to defy black and white categorization is justice for immigrants. Though this country was settled by those seeking refuge from persecution in their native land, today’s U.S. citizens can be a little exclusive about who they want to let in.
In the scope of human civil rights, immigration law is perhaps one of the most difficult to navigate, notwithstanding the fact that those who require such assistance often have language, financial and social barriers to overcome. Among those assisting and defending individuals with these barriers to legal status is lawyer Ginger Jacobs.
Jacobs knew from 12 years of age that she wanted to be a lawyer and has always had an interest in social justice. Growing up in rural Indiana and describing herself as “bookish,” she was a member of the speech team and tended to choose topics like Apartheid or Tiananmen Square for her school projects.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ginger worked in New York City as an associate, practicing commercial litigation from 1998. In 2000, along with a group of young attorneys, she had her first opportunity to take on a pro-bono asylum case regarding a detainee in New Jersey. Their client, a political dissident from Cameroon, had literally fled his country with only the clothes on his back. The state of the detention center, later investigated for sexual abuse and other mistreatment of detainees, left a strong impression on Jacobs.
“It was earthshattering to me, as an American citizen, that this was going on inside our country and being funded with our tax dollars,” she said.
Jacobs said she felt she was finally using her degree to make a difference. She recognized that, with the hours she was spending on cases, she needed the subject matter to be something about which she could be passionate. Their victory on this case injected a well-needed sense of purpose into Jacobs’ career.
Quickly on the heels of this positive event came the crushing blow of 9/11. She saw both the effect it had on the city and on U.S. immigration laws. With the creation of the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, an initiative that specifically targeted Middle Eastern countries, Jacobs saw that justice was not equally and blindly distributed. When she left New York to travel with her husband to San Diego, she sensed it was time for a new direction.
Having realized immigration law was truly her calling, Jacobs took the time needed to learn the nuances of that discipline and opened her own firm, Jacobs & Schlesinger, LLP in January 2004. Since opening, she has leveraged her experience toward partnering with agencies and projects, including Alliance San Diego and The Dreamer Assistance Network, to both provide legal assistance and mentor the next generation of immigration lawyers.
Additionally, Jacobs serves as chair of the Advisory Board for the American Bar Association’s Immigration Justice Project (IJP) of San Diego.
Her current work sees LGBT issues at the forefront, as laws develop in an exciting way. The impending fall of the Defense of Marriage Act has ignited a new conversation on how that will alter LGBT immigration issues. Legal immigration through marriage has long been the province of heterosexual spouses, but that may all change and she already has clients scheduling appointments for early July in anticipation.
Additionally, as we see some laws and abuses against LGBT members become harsher in other countries, Jacobs sees more asylum cases stemming from such acts as sexual violence and torture toward transgender individuals in Mexico to the possibility of imprisonment or execution for being a gay man in Uganda.
If you or someone close to you is facing immigration or political asylum challenges, be sure to get professional advisement before proceeding. Visit alliancesd.org to be linked to resources in the area.
—Ian Morton has worked in the HIV field since 1994 when he began volunteering with AIDS Response Knoxville. He currently serves as outreach liaison for the AIDS Research Institute at UCSD. To nominate a person or organization to be featured in Profiles in Advocacy, please submit name, affiliation and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.