Over the course of nearly 30 years working in legal services in the Boston area, Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Anne Mackin has met and assisted clients facing the hardest times in their lives.
Since 2003, she has worked in GBLS’s Immigration Unit, helping people from all over the world who have witnessed or experienced horrors and tragedy – the loss of friends, family or a home due to natural disasters, war, genocide, and other forms of persecution. She has sought justice and a safe harbor for those who have endured discrimination due to their race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or beliefs.
“It is an enormous privilege for me to work in legal services,” Mackin said. “I’ve met children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected – who, at very young ages, decided that to have a chance at life they had to leave the only home they’d ever known. They decided to pursue life in a country where they hoped to live in safety and pursue their dreams for themselves. I am humbled and awed by what people survive, and the strength of the human spirit.”
Mackin’s career path in legal services began with a college internship, where she was dispatched on home visits to legal services clients and saw firsthand the difficulties they encountered. After graduating from Northeastern Law School in 1981, Mackin spent time working at a small law firm near the campus, then took a position at the Cambridgeport Problem Center, which later became the Community Legal Services and Counseling Center.
In 1988, Mackin started at Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, which eventually became part of Greater Boston Legal Services. She became passionate about helping immigrant families, first through watching her colleagues handle cases in which clients coped with trauma and went on to grow and rebuild their lives. Mackin now focuses on immigration family law in her work.
“In some respects, the needs of our clients have not shifted in the years I’ve worked in legal services. Our clients’ needs are often the same – they need income, food, clothing, shelter; they need protection from persecution, abuse, violence, and discrimination; they need education, fair wages, and dignity and respect,” she said. “They also need help navigating complicated bureaucracies and court systems with daunting rules, and in which a procedural technicality might bar a person from a benefit, a claim, an opportunity, or safe haven for which they might otherwise qualify.”
Mackin said she believes that progress has been made through litigation and policy work to promote the rule of law and address many of the challenges her client face. However, her work continues to evolve based on the shifting circumstances – personal, political and societal – that her clients face.
“Unfortunately, low-income people, single parents, and immigrants are often blamed, even scapegoated, for economic and social problems for which they do not bear personal responsibility. Issues of race, class, disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation permeate our society and especially impact our clients. Regrettably, they are too often disregarded as human beings,” Mackin said.
In the case of immigrant clients, Mackin said, legal needs change depending on the reason that a person seeks protection.
“A political crisis in a specific country, the needs of women and children to be free of persecution, gang violence, gender violence, or other crises cause people all over the world to flee their homelands,” she said. “Additionally, the work changes depending on the current lens through which our society views the immigrant, the low income person, or the person(s) in need.”
Mackin said she considers working in legal services a privilege. Clients trust her with their painful stories, and being a part of their journey toward recovery and safety in permanent U.S. residency is an honor, she said.
“The most gratifying aspect of the work is getting to know the individuals we represent and to work in their communities,” she said. “We can use our skills to help people through the legal process, and are enriched beyond measure knowing that through our work, each client might have the opportunity to pursue his or her goals in life, and grow the personal potential of each.”
Mackin will receive the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award at the Boston Bar Association’s Law Day Dinner on May 15th. The award is presented to professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent people in the Boston area.
From her steadfast dedication to clients to her generous mentorship of colleagues, Mackin exemplifies all that the BBA looks to honor in the legal profession—dedication to excellence, commitment to public service, and the celebration of diversity. Her work representing immigrant children in Massachusetts is more important than ever, and we salute her perseverance in helping those most in need.
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