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April 08, 2022 Judicial Division

From the Borderlands

By Hon. Diana Song Quiroga, Laredo, TX

The saying that “every dark cloud has a silver lining” aptly describes the reversal of fortunes occasioned by the cancellation of the in-person Midyear Meeting in Seattle and its complete move to a virtual platform. The Seattle-based school that Judge Lorraine Lee had labored to coordinate with for the Midyear Year Outreach Diversity Day was unable to participate virtually; this opened up a last-moment vacancy for a host school that could accommodate dozens of judicial volunteers. I responded to Committee Chair Judge Marcella Holland’s call for a new host school and jumped at the opportunity to bring Diversity Day to Laredo, Texas. Normally, our city on the border of Texas and Mexico would never be the site of any ABA conference, and therefore never host visiting judges for a youth outreach at any of our schools. However, the remote linkage provided by video conferencing created the opportunity to connect our underserved community with judges across the nation.

As Judge Holland retells, “we were pleased to present our Diversity Outreach Program at the Hector Garcia Early College High School. Our program encourages students of diverse backgrounds and underserved communities to continue their studies and to see the possibilities open to them in the future, no matter what profession they choose; although we, of course, suggest law school and becoming a lawyer would be excellent goals.” The Early College High School is a magnate program where high school students are dually enrolled at Texas A&M International University, our local campus branch of the Texas A&M public university system. The school is a Title I public college preparatory school because most students come from low-income families near the poverty line. For most students, they are also the first of their families to be educated in the United States and the first ones aspiring to a college degree. More than half of the students have also never traveled outside of the state of Texas. I was bursting with so much joy and pride when the screen filled up with tiles of 60 students’ faces connecting with two dozen volunteer judges from across the country!

After introductions, students and judges worked on a Rule of Law curriculum program developed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts that dovetailed the lessons they were covering in their U.S. Government class. In the second half of the meeting, judges conversed with students about their paths to the bench, shared advice about college and careers, and encouraged students to consider the legal profession. The hour and a half spent with students eager to hear from the judges quickly passed. Both sides learned from each other: the students had a glimpse of the wider world and its opportunities awaiting them, and judges unfamiliar with this part of the country gained an appreciation of the unique challenges and rich culture of our border community.

We are so appreciative of the work done by Early College High School staff, including counselor Marla Alaniz and U.S. Government teacher Ronnie Obregon, to make this outreach event possible in such a compressed schedule. After the event, Mr. Obregon shared the following message:

The Judicial outreach program was a great experience for our students in Garcia Early College High School. This event contributed to their understanding of our court system and their civic growth. Our staff and students are beyond grateful for the exposure and access given to them. The opportunity to meet and dialogue with high-level judges from various backgrounds was highly beneficial to them as individuals and as citizens. We thank Judge Quiroga and all the other judges that made this event possible. 

While I hope to resume our Diversity Days in person at the next ABA Meeting, I am enthusiastic about another silver lining of the pandemic. Now that we are more familiar with the technology of video conferencing platforms, more judges and schools can participate throughout the year to reach out to underserved and remote communities across the country. Programs such as this illustrate why this year the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession recognized the Judicial Division for our Diversity Day program. The Diversity and Inclusion Champion Award was presented as part of the Spirit of Excellence Award program on February 12, 2022, during the Midyear Meeting. Following the ceremony, Judge Holland received several inquiries from other ABA sections for information and materials that we use, so that similar programs could be adopted by other ABA entities. Now with the advent of greater accessibility to schools and volunteer judges via remote video conference, the sky’s the limit!

Hon. Diana Song Quiroga

Laredo, TX

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