Building on Human Rights Law and compassion for the resettlement of destitute and vulnerable refugees, including families and children, seeking asylum and restored lives.

Deirdre Giblin is an Asylum Attorney at Community Legal Services and Counseling Center in Cambridge. She lives in Winchester with her husband and their three daughters.

Interview with Deirdre Giblin

What led you to choose to be an asylum attorney?

From a young age I learned about the wider world from my parents, and was good at standing up and speaking my mind. When I was nine, I responded to a teacher’s suggestion that I would be a good reporter by saying, “I think I want to be a lawyer.” My parents emigrated from Ireland and had siblings around the world serving as missionaries in Africa, South America and Asia. Their letters arrived with foreign stamps and news of places in the world where children were not as advantaged as most kids in the United States. When I was in high school in the 80s, popular music bands like U2 promoted Amnesty International. In history class we discussed the anniversary of a milestone document – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) first adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration marked the first time countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. Then, in 1986, writer and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his message about survival, peace, atonement and human dignity. Human rights were in the foreground and I was inspired entering college by the idea that one day I could practice law in the area of human rights. While studying pre-law at Boston University, I attended an Amnesty International event on campus, and hearing Kerry Kennedy identify as a human rights lawyer convinced me that that was the job for me. As I entered law school, our government opened the first Asylum Office defining asylum as separate from immigration enforcement. For the first time, a specific core of officers was trained to interview refugees seeking asylum. Though human rights law programs were few and far between when I applied to law school, this was a burgeoning area of the law that I was excited to pursue. I attended Penn Law and a highlight my third year was being a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University where I studied with Louis Henkin, ‘the grandfather of human rights law.’ Henkin was nationally known for seeing the linkage between the US Constitution and international conventions. This linkage between our laws and how they comply with international treaties is pivotal in how one practices human rights law in the US.

In 1998 I was practicing asylum law full time at a refugee resettlement agency. That year, the US ratified the International Convention Against Torture incorporating it into our domestic law. Subsequently, the United Nations provided a fund to support programs helping survivors of torture. I helped establish a Torture Survivors Center providing legal and mental health services in Boston. For the past 20 years this work has been funded by a grant from the UN as well as funding from several foundations: the Mass Bar, the Boston Bar, the Cambridge Foundation, and many generous individual donors.

How do you see your calling and your response to it enriching our common life? How about future dreams?
When you started working as an asylum attorney what were some of the biggest challenges you faced? Are the challenges different today?
Where do you see success as a result of your work?
What motivates you to be so willing and open in sharing your experience and understanding of the refugee crisis with the Winchester community?
How has being a woman impacted your work?
Since this month is the month we are honoring women, who is one woman who has inspired you?
Any advice to share?