Juliana Wishne

Juliana_Wishne in front of African American Museum in Washington DC

For most Americans, the federal government’s crackdown on illegal immigration has been seen through media depictions of a surge in arrests from these new policies and children separated from their parents. 

However, Juliana Wishne—a 2016 Ohio State University graduate in political science and Spanish—saw first-hand the impact of the controversial policy shift. In 2017, the former Morrill Scholar landed on the front lines of the debate working as a paralegal for a non-profit group representing detained immigrant adults and children.

“With Trump, suddenly everybody who is undocumented becomes a priority for deportation,” said Wishne. “You could feel the mood shift. Kids with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status were being detained, and fewer asylum seekers were getting paroled out.”

Wishne’s days as a paralegal were spent visiting detention facilities in northern Virginia researching individual cases and figuring out who to help with the limited resources of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition. The year-long experience reinforced her deep and abiding belief in social justice honed in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Morrill Scholar program.

“I need to be working with the people who need the most help,” Wishne said. “There were hundreds and hundreds of immigrant men, women and children cycling through the system, and we could only help a small fraction. I absolutely have to be one of the people on the front line helping others; it’s the only thing I want to do.”

A second-year law student at Georgetown, Wishne said her commitment to social justice stems from her faith in Judaism, but added that her experience at Ohio State was an “amazing” time and a natural extension of her commitment to inclusion.

“ODI really supported me and allowed me to continue the work I had done in high school by stressing the importance of diversity and building diverse communities,” she said.

Wishne heads this summer for the Big Apple, where she will intern for the Bronx Defenders, a public defender’s program offering a more holistic approach than traditional legal aid. A recent RAND Corporation study found that defendants represented by the Bronx Defenders were 16 percent less likely to be locked up and had 24 percent shorter jail and prison sentences than those with traditional public defenders.

The holistic defense concept focuses on trying to address the life circumstances that led the clients to having contact with the criminal punishment system in the first place, Wishne explained. “You have a whole team of people trying to address the current situation beyond the pressing criminal matter, so that you never have to go through this again,” she said.

With a 2020 graduation date at Georgetown Law, Wishne plans on spending her career in the trenches fighting to change a criminal punishment system she sees as fundamentally flawed. “Our system is designed to incarcerate poor people for very, very little reason,” said the St. Louis-area native. “I’ve been inside jails, I’ve been inside migrant detention centers; the vast majority of people do not need to be detained in the way that our country has set up.”

By Aaron Marshall