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Amanda Carter ’16 Pursues Her Dream of Advocating for Children

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Amanda Carter '16 didn’t have an easy childhood. She was just 13 when her mother died and her family often struggled to make ends meet. “I grew up surrounded by poverty, and it was really hard at times,” she says. ”But I was better off than a lot of people in my community.”

Carrying this perspective forward, Carter developed an interest in criminal justice, which she pursued as a top student at Pace University. Then, when St. John’s Law offered her a full-tuition scholarship, she jumped at the opportunity. “Since I depended on public welfare and dealt with the family court system as a child, I always knew that I wanted to be a public interest lawyer,” she says. “The scholarship helped to make that dream a reality.”

At St. John’s, Carter lost no time getting involved in public interest and pro bono initiatives. She participated in the annual Service Day during her 1L orientation and became the student coordinator for Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT), a nonprofit dedicated to empowering unrepresented litigants in New York City. Carter spent her 1L summer as a law clerk with the National Juvenile Defender Center, producing published research on whether states grant juvenile offenders the right to a jury trial.

This past year, as a student clinician and a research assistant with the Law School’s in-house Child Advocacy Clinic, Carter represented unaccompanied minors who immigrated to the United States illegally from Central America.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” says clinic director Jennifer Baum. “We advocate for children whose repatriation would place them at risk of abuse, neglect, or abandonment in their home country. Our students gain real world litigation skills and experience the sobering responsibility of pursuing the legal rights of at risk children. Without the clinic students, these unaccompanied minors wouldn’t have lawyers, because there is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings.”

Carter found her clinic experience eye-opening and formative. “Before I began working on our clinic cases, I knew about the influx of immigrant children coming to the U.S. and the controversy that surrounded it,” she says. “But I had no idea what the children went through to get here, or how complicated the process of keeping them here can be. From the very beginning we had to learn about this process and prepare for guardianship hearings, which included getting our client and his family fingerprinted, conducting numerous interviews, drafting affidavits, and serving legal documents to family members in El Salvador.” 

Inspired by her clinic work, during the spring semester Carter had an externship with the City of New York Administration for Children’s Services. “This was a great, hands-on job,” she shares. “I drafted petitions, motion papers, and memoranda of law concerning alleged child abuse and neglect. I also spent time in the courtroom.”

Reflecting on her work in the field to date, Carter says: “The children are voiceless and have no control over the situation. Yet, they’re the ones who are most affected. That’s why I want to fight for them.” This summer, Carter continues to build her practical skills as a legal intern with the Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Practice in Queens and, this fall, she will participate in the Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic, which is offered in partnership with Legal Aid. She will also help to organize the Law School’s public interest programs and activities as executive director of the newly-formed Public Interest Center Executive Board.

“St. John’s Law has opened the door to so many opportunities for me to pursue my dream of advocating for children,” Carter says. “I’ll enter the profession with a range of legal skills, with work experience, and with real insight into my career path. I’m very grateful for that.”