By Natalie Disla
Passionate about sparking change for immigrant and migrant families, Joseph Cordova, a 2018-20 Florida Bar Foundation-sponsored Equal Justice Works Fellow, practices community lawyering near south Putnam and northwest Volusia Counties.
“They’re definitely the most vulnerable people that we have in our country,” Cordova said. “The whole reason I went to law school was to be able to serve this community. Now I’m getting to do it.”
Cordova’s goal is to educate immigrant and migrant populations so they can obtain a better understanding of their rights and laws and use that knowledge to identify legal barriers in their communities. He also wants them to learn to develop strategies to overcome those barriers so that once his fellowship is complete, the communities will continue to progress.
To achieve these goals in the next year and a half, Cordova, who is hosted by Florida Legal Services, runs Legal Literacy and Know Your Rights events for immigrant students of all ages, in which he uses a civics curriculum to help them understand the law. He has already completed 30 events, with plans for 30 more.
For elementary students, Cordova hosts an after-school club called the Law and Leadership Club, which recently performed a mock trial in the Putnam County Courthouse.
Cordova says most immigrant populations in the communities he serves live hidden in the shadows, afraid to stand up for their rights.
“If they can take that next step, then that leadership baton can be handed off to the next generation as they start to take ownership and investment in their own community and start to recognize that we don’t need to simply adapt to discrimination and adapt to struggle, but we can overcome this,” Cordova said.
Cordova is also working to develop a community leadership coalition in which community leaders discuss issues prevalent in their communities and develop strategies to combat them.
“I imagine it like a Justice League meeting,” Cordova said.
He is planning a day-long event this summer at which he will guide dialogue between community leaders, hoping to inspire more people to take action and create a community leadership coalition.
“I want to be able to say that an entire community got together and identified their own issues and identified their own strategies, and here’s what they’re doing to overcome those barriers,” Cordova said.
Cordova hopes to spark a permanent change in these rural immigrant and migrant communities so that they grow and continue to progress with a well-informed community.
“For more than two decades, Equal Justice Works has awarded Fellowships to launch the careers of passionate public service leaders,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “We are proud of Joseph and the work he is doing to ensure equal access to justice.”