Summer Centered: Lena Yeakey ’19 Builds a Case for Public Interest Law
The comparative literature major is a CPGC-sponsored intern at Justice at Work, a legal group that provides free legal aid to low-wage immigrant workers.
For Lena Yeakey ’19, the national conversation surrounding immigration and equality under the law extends from beyond the living room television and into the office. Sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the rising senior is spending her summer as an intern with Justice at Work, a legal group that provides representation to low-wage workers in Philadelphia.
A comparative literature major, Spanish minor, and peace, justice and human rights concentrator, Yeakey is eager to explore the connection between her chosen disciplines and a future in public interest law.
"I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to go into public interest law, and also that I was interested in studying comparative literature—and I see the two as closely related,” she said. “Comparative literature is the interdisciplinary study of literature across linguistic and national borders; public interest law —specifically immigration law — is literally cross-border, and it's based in translating client narratives and experiences into legal actions.”
Justice at Work launched in 1979 as Friends of Farmworkers and recently changed its name to reflect the broader industries of its clientele, who work in fields beyond just agriculture including landscaping, cleaning, and food service.
"I'm interested in the work that Justice at Work does because it lies at the intersection of immigration and labor law, which is an area that I've been interested in and connected to for a long time,” said Yeakey. “They provide direct legal services to low-wage immigrant workers across Pennsylvania, as well as know-your-rights presentations and community education outreach.”
Yeakey was introduced to the organization when she visited as a participant in the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship’s Migration Field Study in January 2017. The organization appealed to her in part because of its focus on inclusive justice and because of its strong connection to the City of Brotherly Love.
"I was initially interested in the opportunity to continue to work in public interest law, specifically within the Philadelphia region,” she said. “I think it's important, as a Haverford student, to plug into this work that supports marginalized communities within our region—to break out of the Haverbubble in a deeper way than going into Philly for dinner or a concert.”
At Justice at Work, Yeakey is assigned to a supervising attorney and spends her time translating documents, cross-checking affidavits, and aggregating evidence for cases taken on by the organization.
"I'm hoping to increase my knowledge of legal terms and systems, specifically the interaction between federal, state, and local enforcement and social services,” said Yeakey. “I’m also excited to learn more about the issues facing low-wage workers specifically, as well as about the resources and protections that do or don’t exist for low wage workers in southeastern PA.”
After this summer, Yeakey will return to Haverford for her senior year, but affirms that this internship is only the beginning of her time in the field.
"I'm planning to pursue a career in public interest law, though I'm not sure if I'll end up in immigration, labor rights, public defense, or some other area,” she said. “This specific experience has confirmed to me that I still want to do public interest work: especially in this political moment, it’s so important to support marginalized and underrepresented communities in finding their voice in the legal system.”