Notice & Comment

Humanizing Immigration and Refugee Law through the Great Books: A Review of Clamouring for Legal Protection, by Ana Luquerna

*From 2019-2020, Professor Robert F. Barsky contributed a series of pieces to Notice & Comment on the rights of refugees and vulnerable migrants, available here.

Clamouring for Legal Protection is a must-read for any current or aspiring attorney. This insightful book demonstrates the crucial need to go beyond the law to be a good lawyer. By conducting an in-depth study of the Great Books, Barsky not only proves the existence of a timeless tradition of seeking refuge and providing asylum, but he also reminds us of the power of literature to evoke empathy and self-actualization. After reading this book, readers cannot claim ignorance about the struggle and injustices that immigrants face as they seek safety. As a result, they are encouraged to apply a humanistic lens to the plight of contemporary immigrants.

But just how much do the characters in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, Dante’s Inferno, Camus’s La Peste, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have in common? Although a daunting question, Barsky skillfully demonstrates their similarity. Notwithstanding the fact that each character represents a different type of immigrant, Barsky observes that in one way or another, they all face the same challenges that real-life immigrants experience when searching for a better life. Common themes include the initial reluctance to leave one’s home; the feeling of purposelessness; the experience of unending limbo; the false idea of a Promised Land; and the innumerable borders and doors that are purposefully closed to prevent their journey. Though each immigrant experience is unique, Barsky highlights the fact that throughout time, in the real world and in literature, immigrants have faced unimaginable injustices. However, he also emphasizes their tenacity and agency as they strive for a better future, reminding us to fight against the common rhetoric that belittles immigrants and conceptualizes them as burdens.

Apart from delving into the Great Books, Barsky also makes readers contemplate current events. What does migration look like in the face of climate change and Covid-19? Why are some people entitled to travel and seek adventure, while others do not have that choice? What can we learn from our past to apply to our present and future? The exploration of these tough questions highlights the need to continue advocating for immigrant justice.

Overall, Barsky’s book makes it clear that migration and granting refuge is a worldwide and timeless tradition. However, he notes that populism and hatred also have their roots in ancient history. He leaves us with a challenge that all legal professionals should hope to adopt. How can we practice law without forgetting our empathy and innate connection to our common humanity? How can we challenge ourselves to destroy the common negative misconceptions about immigrants? This book reminds lawyers that knowing the law will never be enough to provide the adequate representation that refugees and immigrants deserve. To truly help those in most need, we must incorporate compassion and a humanistic understanding to our everyday practice in the field.

Ana Luquerna is a recent graduate from The University of Chicago Law School, with a professional and academic background in international human rights law and refugee law. She is currently a Judicial Fellow at The International Court of Justice.