“We help thousands of immigrants by pairing them with pro bono attorneys and providing know-your-rights presentations, and we also expend a significant amount of resources to training new lawyers in the practice of immigration removal defense,” Elizabeth Knowles ‘12 proudly said of her work as Executive Director of the ABA Immigration Justice Project (IJP). Knowles, who assumed the position in 2013, successfully administers the Legal Orientation Program at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility, the IJP’s Pro Bono Lawyer Training and Referral Program, and the National Qualified Representative Program in San Diego, which provides government appointed counsel to mentally incompetent detainees in immigration removal proceedings.
“I love that I'm able to be part of an exciting time in immigration law. For the first time in history, non-citizens are provided with counsel, and I'm part of it,” Knowles stated. “The United States is in the midst of a major revision of its current immigration system, and my organization will undoubtedly play a significant role in bringing those changes to fruition here in San Diego. All of this and being part of San Diego's exceptional community of service-oriented non-profits is extremely rewarding.”
Knowles’s passion for immigration law and access to justice issues was sparked by her exposure to indigenous communities before law school. Once at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Knowles secured internships that provided her with valuable experience and the opportunity to become familiar with the San Diego legal community. Knowles dedicated her time to numerous organizations, including the California Innocence Project, Casa Cornelia, Immigration Justice Project, and the San Diego Immigration Court.
In addition to her work off campus, Knowles sought and took advantage of the opportunities on campus. “I would definitely say that my experience leading the Public Interest Law Foundation really put service into focus for me and helped widen my lens on the need for local volunteer efforts in the areas of homelessness, domestic violence, and immigration defense,” Knowles said. “I benefited from the angels in Student Services who helped guide me during my time at TJSL with everything from my student organization budget to encouragement through tough times. I have many fond memories of my time as a student at TJSL. I made many lifelong friendships and received a brilliant foundation for my legal career.”
To graduates who have passed the bar, Knowles said, “Congratulations! You met the first part of your goal. Now you have the ticket, but you must stay committed. Committed to reaching your fullest potential, and committed to the clients you will eventually serve. Once you begin working as a lawyer, take your responsibilities seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously and lose your ability to interact with other people. Avoid burnout. Evaluate where you're at in life from time to time. Think about why you wanted to do this in the first place and try to weave that reason into what you're doing now.”
For those who have never considered a career in public interest, Knowles encourages new attorneys, “Be flexible about what your future might hold. Volunteer with a pro bono organization. So many people in the world desperately need assistance and you are in a great position to provide some. Learn something and help someone out while you're at it. It feels good. It is good. You're on your way, and if you've come this far, you can be certain that you have what it takes to be equally awesome at whatever is coming up next on your path.”