ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Lisa Koop hoped that Mennonite Voluntary Service would prepare her for the ambiguous next step. To her surprise, her MVS experience in law became her next step.
Koop currently works for the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. In her role as associate director of legal services, she helps individuals navigate the legal system, and advocates for systemic changes to the federal legal system.
In August 2013, Koop assisted a federal case (Cece v. Holder) that recognized human trafficking targets as refugees, who were potentially eligible for asylum in the United States. The law was expanded to provide protection for young women with characteristics that make them targets for human trafficking.
Recently, Koop won an asylum case for a young woman from Congo, who was kidnapped and abused. She applied for asylum and was given legal status after a few years of living in the United States. In her work, Koop meets with individuals from around the world.
But Koop didn’t always have a passion for law.
As a 1999 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, Koop entered her MVS placement expecting it to be a good learning experience — but not a vocation. In fact, when she first began her MVS term, she resisted the idea that law might be in her future, because she envisioned herself following her degrees in psychology and English. Instead, she followed her passion for social justice through the lens of her faith, and landed in the border town of Harlingen, Texas.
In Harlingen, Koop served two years with ProBAR, or the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, which gives legal advice to detained asylum seekers and immigrants.
“A lot of people are just trying to stay with their families who live in the United States,” said Koop.
On a normal day, Koop would meet with individuals facing deportation — which could happen at any time. She gave legal advice, explained why the person was detained, and identified possible ways for the detainees to be released from the detainment facility.
During the two years she spent in Harlingen, Koop’s interest in immigration law grew from curiosity to passion. In one particular case, Koop was helping a young Pakistani man who was facing political persecution. She communicated with the man in Spanish, which he learned watching telenovelas, or Spanish soap operas.
“He was a young guy about my age, and I found his story really compelling,” said Koop. “He was facing deportation, and I couldn’t find an attorney to take his case.”
That is when Koop realized that as a paralegal, her ability to intervene for clients was limited.
Koop’s faith compelled her to seek ways to respond to the issues that confronted the immigrants she met at the detention centers. During Koop’s MVS experience, she found that “there needs to be a merger in the way that we express our faith and the way that we live our lives.” Practicing immigration law gives Koop a tangible way to affect lives in a positive way.
After MVS, Koop graduated magna cum laude from the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, part of which was paid for by AmeriCorps funding earned through her MVS experience.
MVS provided mentors and opened doors for Koop to practice pro bono law at the National Immigrant Justice Center, as well as with teaching law as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame (Ind.).
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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.