The University of Iowa College of Law is delighted to announce that Barbara Rodriguez (22JD) is a recipient of the 2024 Skadden Fellowship, marking the first time an Iowa Law graduate has received this honor. Skadden Fellowships, recognized as the most prestigious and competitive awards for public interest lawyers, provide recipients two years of funding to dedicate themselves to full-time public interest law pursuits.
Rodriguez will join a distinguished group of 28 graduating law students and judicial clerks from across the United States, focusing on critical issues such as disability rights, education equity, housing, immigrants' rights, loan borrowers' rights, LGBTQ+ healthcare rights, and environmental law.
Gretchen Wolf (02JD), a partner at Skadden and an Iowa Law alum, expresses her excitement: “I am so excited that Barbara Rodriguez was selected as the first Skadden Fellow from Iowa Law. As a member of the Fellowship advisory committee, I had the privilege of interviewing Barbara and reading about her proposed project. She was an incredible candidate and will make a huge impact on the lives of immigrants in Iowa facing the threat of deportation.”
As a Skadden Fellow, Rodriguez will provide legal representation, community outreach, and know-your-rights trainings for noncitizens at high risk of deportation. Her work will be hosted by the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice (Iowa MMJ) in Des Moines. It will be in collaboration with the Prairielands Freedom Fund, co-founded by Iowa Law alum Julia Zalenski (13JD).
Expressing her enthusiasm for the opportunity, Rodriguez says, “I am thrilled to be able to help meet the legal needs of immigrant communities across Iowa and excited for the Skadden Foundation to lend visibility and resources to the problem of underrepresentation in immigration proceedings.”
Rodriguez's dedication to immigration rights and past successes make her a deserving receipt of the fellowship. Earlier this year, she was awarded the 2023 “Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award" by the Burton Awards for her note published in the Iowa Law Review titled, “In the Interest of Justice: Presuming Prejudice When the Right to Counsel in Removal Proceedings Is Denied.”
While at Iowa Law, Rodriguez was an active member of Iowa Law’s Immigration Advocacy Clinic led by Professor Bram Elias and the Community Empowerment Law Project led by Daria Fisher Page. The immigration clinic provides students with a unique opportunity to represent juveniles and adults in deportation/removal proceedings while advocating for legal and policy issues affecting the civil rights of immigrants and their communities. The community empowerment law project represents individuals, nonprofits, and organizations working to strengthen their communities, create economic opportunity, and advance social justice. Rodriguez says her time in the law clinic instilled a practice of reflection and collaboration that she looks forward to bringing to her work as a Skadden Fellow with Iowa MMJ.
“Clinic taught me to counsel and navigate clients through the uncertainty of the immigration legal system,” says Rodriguez. “It shaped my understanding of the complex needs faced by immigrant communities across Iowa and the roles that I can play–as a lawyer and community member–to help move the needle, if only a little. Moreover, the clinic’s ‘law firm’ model allowed me to learn and benefit not only from Bram’s and Daria’s supervision and mentorship, but from all clinical faculty, students, and clients.”
In tandem with her clinic involvement, Rodriguez actively engaged in various volunteer and internship experiences. During her 1L year, she volunteered through the Citizen Lawyers Program, coordinating the New Iowans Legal Advice Clinic. In her 2L year, she interned with the Iowa Public Defender's Office in Iowa City and the Harvard Immigrant and Refugee Clinic. In her 3L year, she volunteered with Catholic Charities and Iowa MMJ, in collaboration with other pro bono providers across the state, to address the immigration legal needs of Afghan citizens resettling in Iowa. Reflecting on these experiences, Rodriguez expresses their pivotal role in preparing her upcoming work.
“My clinic, volunteer, and internship experiences while at Iowa Law were so important in providing insight into the varied legal needs of immigrant communities, the unique challenges to accessing representation in Iowa, and the small-but-mighty community of immigration lawyers and activists across the state.”
As the first Skadden fellow from Iowa Law, Rodriguez extends her gratitude to the supportive faculty and staff who played a crucial role in her journey.
“I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to the many faculty and staff at Iowa Law who prepared, positioned, and supported me to do the exact work I want to do — Dawn Anderson, Tami Diebel, Bram Elias, Stella Elias, AJ Finch, Daria Fisher Page, Emily Hughes, Peter Persaud, Anya Prince, June Tai. I could go on."
For a comprehensive list of the 2024 Skadden Fellows and the organizations they will be working with, please visit SkaddenFellowships.org.