Legal Aid / Consulting

Legal Aid

I have been asked on a number of occasions to provide expert testimony and/or file an expert affidavit on behalf of an undocumented immigrant seeking asylum in the US. In most of these cases the firm seeking my assistance has a client who either has been or is likely to be the target of violence from a Central American gang. Although I have been asked quite often to do this, I have written only a small number of affidavits. One reason for this is that I have a full load of courses to teach. But an even bigger reason involves my particular expertise and my research findings. Many of the firms that have contacted me have reported that their clients report being the target of gang violence for their religious affiliation or practices. While I have no reason to doubt the veracity of these individuals’ claims, I do not yet have research evidence of such religiously-targeted violence. When doing the research for my book in 2007 and 2008, I found that the opposite was true — gang members tended to take a “hands off” approach to highly religious persons such as pastors and priests, and even, in some cases, overtly religious lay persons. Even former gang members, who would normally be under great danger for having “deserted” the gang were often given a “pass” if they were openly religious and followed a strict and ascetic lifestyle to prove it. It may be that times are changing and such religious status no longer protects ex-gang members but I do not yet have empirical evidence to make that case. Please know that if you are seeking help from me to underscore the credibility of this particular claim for your client, I cannot do so at this point.

If you are seeking help in making a more general claim about the dangers of being targeted by gangs in Northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) I may be able to help but for a variety of reasons (not least of which is the fact that I work for a modest income at liberal arts college that expects me to both teach and continue my research portfolio) I need to ask that you provide a reasonable compensation for my time. At this point, that means something in the neighborhood of $75/hour with a minimum of $525 for a written expert affidavit. Obviously, many cases may require more than five hours of preparation. I apologize that I cannot at this time offer my services for free.

Please know as well that by familiarizing yourself with my published research you may have a better idea of whether or not I can actually help your client´s case. While you don’t need to read my book cover to cover, it would help a great deal to read Chapter 3 “From Pandilla to Mara” and perhaps Chapter 5 “Dodging the Morgue Rule.” (My dissertation is publicly available and also contains these chapters in an earlier form.) Even more helpful would be to access the updated review essay Latin American Gangs which I recently published with Adriana García in the Oxford Handbook (Online) of Criminology and Criminal Justice (edited by Michael Tonry). That piece provides, as far as I know, the most up-to-date overview of the research currently available concerning the Central American gangs.

Consulting for Policy and Aid Work

In addition to regularly presenting my research in academic circles, I have for the past several years engaged in consulting and advising non-profits, religious NGO’s, and US Government entities who are trying to develop policies aimed at addressing youth violence in urban settings of Latin America. While I am not expertly trained in youth violence reduction, I have observed and interviewed quite a few practitioners over the years and I am happy to share what I have learned from Interviewing dozens of recovering gang members and from reading widely in the literature. I enjoy presenting my reach to both academic and non-academic audiences and I always do my best to prepare a presentation or talk that will fit the particular needs of the organization or gathering seeking input. As my book makes clear, I believe it is crucial that we understand the roots of gang violence before launching any efforts to stop it. Of course, you don’t need a PhD in sociology (or any other discipline) in order to understand gang violence — many experienced practitioners have an intuitive grasp of what makes violence so attractive to so many urban youth, especially gang members — but taking time to reflect on what we know about gangs, gang violence and what seems to work in reducing it and in enticing youth to leave a violent lifestyle can pay important dividends and help to avoid some of the nifty-sounding programming that may ultimately have little impact. Some of the most memorable events I have been fortunate to participate in include participating in panels at the United States Institute of Peace, the US Foreign Service Institute Training Session on “Global Youth Violence,” and meetings with urban peacebuilders sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee in Bogotá, Colombia. I am always interested in participating in such events as long as dates can be worked out with my teaching schedule. To get a sense of some of the themes I typically touch on in these settings, take a look at my book and in particular Chapter Four: Turning Shame into Violence.

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