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February 21, 2013

Cory Smith ’00: Immigrant Rights Champion

Oregon Law graduate Cory Smith is an unsung hero in the worlds of legal justice and immigration reform. This past summer Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice), one of the country’s most prominent non-profit immigration legal services organizations, selected Smith to open their Washington, D.C. office and serve as director. The organization represents immigrants at no charge and works with policymakers, lobbyists and human rights organizations to influence federal legislation. One of his big projects right now is working with congressional leaders to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The bill would serve and protect victims of human trafficking. 

Astoundingly, Smith does not actually live in Washington, D.C. Instead he resides with his wife in New Hampshire, where he teaches courses on human trafficking as an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Law. Smith’s commitment to public service is so fierce that he travels to D.C. two weeks out of every month to head the D.C. office of AI Justice and serve as legal and policy counsel to the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of U.S.-based human rights organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking.

But Smith’s work in human rights advocacy isn’t limited to the U.S. In August of last year, Smith, in his capacity as board member for the Telos Group, traveled to Israel and the West Bank to hold a series of legal advocacy workshops for Israelis, Palestinians and Bedouins. These workshops provided skills training for engaging U.S. policymakers in international human rights reform.

Smith graduated from Oregon Law in 2000 with a focus in international law. His longstanding interest in the intersection between legal policy and human and civil rights influenced his academic career. He connected with Professor Ibrahim Gossama and the late former professor Keith Aoki. Both served as mentors to him. Among his academic accomplishments, Smith organized a human rights conference at Oregon Law in 2000 and co-founded the Oregon Review of International Law, a student-run journal that published articles addressing legal issues in international law and policy. The journal still thrives today.

After graduating, Smith served in various leadership positions at human rights organizations. His former titles include: Executive Director and Advocacy Director of the Enough Project, an initiative at the Center for American Progress aimed at ending mass atrocities and genocide; Deputy Campaign Manager for the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a campaign that led efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation; Legislative Counsel for Human Rights First in Washington, D.C.; and Policy analyst at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the country’s largest, oldest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition.

If that wasn’t enough, four years ago Smith founded his own consultancy firm, Smith Strategic Services, to provide policy and advocacy counsel in matters regarding immigration and human trafficking. As a consultant, many of Smith’s clients are lawyers; so to Smith it’s crucial he teach them how to better advocate for their own clients, who are often vulnerable and underserved by the larger legal community. His goal is to educate his clients to the point where they no longer need his counsel.

“I’m not successful unless I eventually put myself out of work,” said Smith.

In 2009, human rights foundation Humanity United (HU) was looking for someone with advocacy and policy experience to head a coalition of human trafficking organizations they fund and facilitate, ATEST. Smith was recommended through his work for HU grantee the Enough Project and the organization hired him to be ATEST’s legal and policy counsel. That same year, his wife was offered a teaching position at the University of New Hamphire School of Law to direct the law school’s Social Justice Institute. Smith subsequently moved with her in 2009 and became an adjunct professor in 2011.

Beyond working to better the lives of immigrants and victims of human trafficking, Smith makes himself available as a mentor to Oregon Law students and alumni interested in international law and immigration reform. Emmett Soper ‘02, Attorney Advisor for the Executive Office of Immigration Review Office of the General Counsel, is just one Oregon Law alum Smith has aided since graduating. Soper wanted to enter the international law field and visited Oregon Law’s Career Center for help. The center directed Soper to Smith, who told Soper to apply for an internship with Human Rights First in D.C., where Smith was working at the time. The position gave Soper an “in” to the legal world of immigration law.

“I don’t think I would have applied if Cory hadn’t told me to,” said Soper. “It was really what started me in my career.”

Smith welcomes the opportunity to connect with current students and alumni. He’s truly a “duck helping ducks.”

“I have a responsibility to be a mentor, to help students and young people and graduates who want to get involved in this field,” Smith said.

Currently, Smith alternates his time between teaching at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, advising ATEST, consulting with his clients at his own firm and directing AI Justice’s D.C. office. It’s an enormous responsibility, but Smith is up for the challenge. As long as vulnerable immigrants and those that serve them need an advocate, he’ll be there.

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