More than 50 percent of New York State farmworkers are undocumented, and a significant number of them are children and youth under the age of 21. Many of these young people are living on dairy farms, working long, grueling hours for low pay, says Beth Lyon, Law.
“These kids have been forced to leave their countries, generally because of extreme family poverty or targeting by gangs, and sometimes because of neglect or abuse,” Lyon explains. “They cross dangerous borders, run the gamut of immigration detention, and end up on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. They’re working a very tough job, and many of them are coping with active removal proceedings against them by the immigration authorities at the same time.”
Lyon, who is a practicing deportation defense lawyer on the Cornell Law faculty, supervises law students in a teaching law office. With her guidance, students help these undocumented immigrant children and youth avoid deportation. “The law students are incredibly creative, hardworking, and motivated,” Lyon says. “And through different legal gambits they usually succeed in getting their clients on a path to citizenship.”
Training students and working on inspiring cases bring her joy, Lyon says, but just as important, her position as a clinical professor allows her the time and support to reflect on her work and to carry out research. She grounds her scholarship in areas of immediate relevance to her community partners, giving priority to migrant rights, access to justice, and clinical legal education.