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Home / 2014 Women in the Law / Firm founder fights for immigrant rights

Firm founder fights for immigrant rights

Erin-Murphy-BarbatoIn the past year, Erin Murphy Barbato opened her own firm, welcomed her second child and resumed teaching as an adjunct at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

All of this, while caring for her 20-month-old child and serving on the board of the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, where she once served as executive director and still does pro bono work.

“It doesn’t really feel like work to me,” Barbato said. “It feels like something I’m supposed to do. It just allows me to do something that I enjoy, and I’m also really able to help people.”

It’s a revelation she first had as an undergrad, when she interned with the public defender’s office. As a Spanish speaker, she often was paired with undocumented inmates for jail interviews.

“They were so confused about what was going on, and I really couldn’t help them at the time,” she said. “But I knew I could be of use in this area. I could make a difference.”

It’s part of the reason she stepped in when the law school’s Domestic Violence Immigration Clinic was forced to close last year.

“There was still a huge need and still a huge desire for students to continue working in that area,” Barbato explained, “so the law school was kind enough to let me work as an adjunct.”

She now teaches humanitarian immigration law. And, as part of the Community Immigration Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, she works with five students who help with the cases of vulnerable immigrants, including victims of human trafficking and domestic violence, as well as special immigrant juveniles and asylum cases.

“She has one of the best hearts in the world,” said Barbara Graham, a former colleague and director of Legal Services for Immigrants with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “I have seen people come to her whose lives were just overwhelmingly complicated, isolated by poverty and language and culture. By the time they were done (with Barbato), they were safe from their abusers, safe at home at night, tucking their kids in bed.

“If I were one of those victims and my life was falling apart, I would want Erin to be the one I was standing behind.”

Barbato said her goal is to do what she can.

“You can really help people who are scared to come out of the shadows, especially victims of crimes,” she said. “A lot of people could do the work I do. I’ve just been lucky enough to do it.”


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