On a Saturday morning in January 2017, Camille Mackler ’06 was driving on the Van Wyck Expressway, headed to JFK Airport.
News had broken the night before about President Donald Trump’s executive order, which suddenly halted immigration from seven countries. Travelers and refugees were stranded and confused.
“I had no plan in going to JFK except wanting to help, and in the back of my mind, I could hear [Professor] Lenni Benson saying, ‘Camille, what are you doing?’” Mackler laughs.
Almost four years later, Mackler has found a powerful way to help. She is Executive Director of a new nonprofit that evolved from the coalition of volunteer attorneys who, like her, flocked to airports to provide on-the-spot immigration counsel.
The nonprofit—Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (IARC)—launched on June 1, just as the nation was grappling with police killings, a wave of national protests, and challenges posed by COVID-19—all of which have impacted immigrant communities.
Mackler, who has served as the de facto lead organizer of the volunteer attorneys since 2017, is at the helm of IARC. She was most recently Director of Immigration Legal Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. At the moment, she’s a one-woman staff, working hard to fundraise and build a team. But as she’s quick to point out, IARC is, at its heart, a collaborative and supportive network.
Building a Hub of New York Immigration Advocates
IARC’s member organizations are primarily nonprofits but include the New York Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, and numerous private lawyers and firms.
“We view ourselves as New York’s immigration bar,” Mackler says.
The group serves as a central hub for lawyers and immigrant communities throughout New York, Mackler says. A unifying theme of its work is advancing access to justice.
That work includes planning trainings, setting a policy agenda, providing peer-to-peer support for often overtaxed immigration lawyers, and building a provider referral network to minimize clients having to “shop their trauma around,” as Mackler puts it, to numerous legal agencies.
“The connective tissue role we play—be it for providers, for referrals, for information strategy—it doesn’t exist otherwise in the state,” she says.
In 2018, IARC’s network, though still a volunteer coalition at the time, mobilized to protect the legal rights of immigrants who were moved from detention facilities on the U.S. Southern Border to the Albany County Jail. More recently, when the federal government changed its asylum rules and provided 30 days of public comment on the new rules—a 150-page document—the same network divided the document and provided detailed analysis by section.
The nonprofit also collects data from its members and from immigrant communities, to ensure that its actions are informed by its members’ needs.
“I want us to be able to break down data region by region in New York, so we can say, for example, in northern New York, we have a lot of Mexican and Guatemalan farmers who are vulnerable to deportation,” Mackler says. “Let’s focus attention on how we serve that community because we need these farmers, and they deserve a fair day in court.”
Inspired to Pursue Immigration Law at NYLS
Mackler, who grew up abroad and attended college in Washington, D.C., came to NYLS to work on international freedom of speech issues. She planned to relocate back to Washington or overseas after earning her J.D.
“Instead, I met two people: a guy and Lenni Benson,” she jokes.
Mackler’s gift for immigration law quickly became apparent in Professor Benson’s immigration law classes.
“Lenni made me the advocate I am today,” she says.
Leaving a stable job to launch a new nonprofit was a leap of faith, but Mackler says she is grateful and inspired every day.
“This is an opportunity to show what lawyers can do—and what the power of legal education and a career in law can do,” she says. “This is a way to reimagine how I can use the law to make real change.”
Upcoming Launch Event
On September 21, IARC will host its official launch event, “The Role of the Legal Advocate at the Intersection of Immigrant Rights & Racial Justice.” The event features Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and speakers from various IARC membership organizations. It will explore the intersection of immigration and racial justice. The event is public, and there is no cost to attend.