Living Willamette’s motto, law professor protects children’s rights

by Jennifer Johnson,

Warren Binford continues to shine light on children’s treatment at U.S. border facilities.

  • Warren Binford

Professor of Law Warren Binford lives Willamette’s motto through her work, and today she’s making more of an impact than ever. 

Since June, she has been one of the most prominent voices exposing the inhumane conditions of an overcrowded border facility in Clint, Texas, where hundreds of migrant children are detained with minimal care. She has appeared in major news outlets — The New Yorker, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post — to detail the nightmare children have been living, in many cases for weeks: soiled clothing, continuous tears, lack of bedding and junk food for meals.

The acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned and the El Paso sector chief was demoted after Binford and a team of lawyers and doctors went public about the mistreatment. 

An internationally known children’s rights scholar and advocate, Binford has volunteered to interview hundreds of children at facilities on the border to ensure children’s rights are being respected. On trips over the past three years, she’s chosen a select few Willamette community members — Brenda Ulloa ’11, Jack Dekovich JD’12, Associate Professor of Law Caroline Davidson and current student, Alison Ecker JD’20 — to join her. 

Living Willamette’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born,” during law school is critical preparation for a student’s future as an attorney, she said. 

“I truly believe one person can make a difference in the world, whether it’s on a smaller scale like one person’s life or a larger one, such as changing national or international law,” she said. “Attorneys have the power to do that. It’s important for law students to discover and appreciate the significant amount of power they have.” 

Some law students heard of Binford’s trips through Willamette Law’s Immigration Clinic, one of four “mini practices” in the Clinical Law Program that allow law students the chance to apply their knowledge and represent real clients. 

The clinic has an important association with Binford’s work. Years ago, its former director — Professor of Law Gwynne L. Skinner, who taught immigration, refugee law and human rights — encouraged Binford to get involved with unaccompanied children through Binford’s Child and Family Advocacy Clinic, which provides pro bono legal work for children and families in crisis. Students can participate in the clinic this fall. 

Binford pursued the idea and in 2014 also conducted research on children who cross the border without their family and need legal representation. 

Before Skinner died from cancer in 2017, she told Binford she always wanted to take law students on a trip to the southern border to provide pro bono work to asylum seekers. Binford took her first trip as an expert in Flores v. Barr that same year. 

“I knew it was something that was important to her, so I took that trip in her honor,” she said. 

Binford’s commitment to the effort has been tireless. She’s been working around the clock consulting with members of Congress, fulfilling interview requests and creating a national campaign, Amplify the Children, that features the children’s statements so the public can tell the children’s stories in their own words. 

The focus is simple, she said: “How can we keep these children’s plight in the public domain?”

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