October 02, 2019

Rights of Immigrants Q & A

SPOTLIGHT: RIGHTS OF IMMIGRANTS COMMITTEE
The work of this Committee is vital - now more than ever. Recent immigration crises have sparked action, and Committee Chair Engy Abdelkader wants to work impassioned attorneys and activists to:

  1. Identify and develop programs on the issues that are crucial in immigration law, and
  2. Explore legal, legislative, and policy initiatives that empower and protect historically marginialized communities.

 Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. My parents came here from Egypt in search of the American Dream. Growing up, I spent numerous summers in Egypt and was always attuned to the plight of the impoverished, marginalized and disenfranchised. As a teen, for instance, I remember challenging my relatives about their employment of a poor female child as a domestic worker; she should be in school, I argued. There were no laws requiring that, however.

Eventually, as a lawyer, I dedicated my legal career to serving the public interest. I litigated cases on behalf of indigent immigrant clients searching for a better life. I also worked to raise awareness about racial and ethnic justice issues. In my free time, I co-founded a specialty bar organization, the New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, and was elected its first president. I also served on New Jersey Supreme Court Committees and with the state bar association. I'm passionate about giving back to my community, our profession and helping others.

Over time I discovered my love for teaching - working with law students, lecturing at law schools and penning opinion pieces. I returned to the University of Pennsylvania Law School for my second law degree, specialized in Islamic law and women's rights as well as human rights, civil liberties and national security. I graduated with the highest honors and have since been publishing legal scholarship.   

Today, I’m grateful to work at Rutgers University where my teaching and research explore religion, race and gender at the intersection of law, society and politics. I view my scholarship and classroom instruction as forces for advancing social justice here and around the world. I also still advocate on behalf of marginalized communities through my work with the ABA, US State Department, UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. 

Which issue(s) do you care about or work most on and why?

I care deeply about social justice issues, from religious freedom and racial equality to the rights of immigrants, women, and children.

What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing these issues today?

The current administration’s policies, practices and rhetoric.

Where do you find the greatest support in propelling the issue(s) you work on?

This is a particularly challenging time for some religious, racial and ethnic minorities in America. As an observant American Muslim woman, I draw upon my faith for strength, guidance and support. My faith teaches that helping others is an act of worship, similar to ritual prayer or making a pilgrimage. Ultimately, I believe we should emphasize and act upon these more humanitarian aspects of religion.

How and why did you get involved in the ABA?

I met an ABA leader at a Ramadan Iftar in Washington, D.C. a number of years ago. After discussing my work and interests, she inquired if I’d be interested in becoming more active with the ABA. I seized the opportunity because this is a powerful vehicle for upholding human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.

What project(s) do you hope the Rights of Immigrants Committee will accomplish in the following year?

We have a number of exciting projects lined up for the upcoming ABA year. For instance, we are launching a lecture series that explores immigration at the intersection of national security law, public international law and US constitutional law, among other legal areas. The programs are on the cutting edge, feature nationally renown experts and center on topics that have been the subject of news media discourse, public policies and ensuing litigation over the last two years. 

What is the best way for interested parties to share their ideas for the Committee and get involved?

We host a Connect Community where members can share ideas. Beginning in January, we will also host monthly committee calls at noon on Wednesdays. And, folks are welcome to email me directly as well. Ultimately, this isn’t my committee, it’s yours.