Amy Pope '01

June 4, 2007Duke Law News

Amy Pope traces her interest in civil rights and law back to hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors she met in the primarily Jewish neighborhood of Pittsburgh where she grew up. “Their stories of discrimination and what they had to endure profoundly affected me,” she says. That early interest was cemented during two years spent as a paralegal in the Department of Justice following college, which included a rotation in the Civil Rights Division. “I loved what I did as a paralegal in the Division, and felt that if I could do what the lawyers were doing, that could only be better.”

Pope returned to the Division as a prosecutor after a clerkship with Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, spending four years handling cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking. The trafficking cases in particular, which involved children, domestic laborers, and forced sex-trade workers, showed her how closely immigration ties into civil rights.

“These sensitized me to the challenges that immigrants face when they come to the United States, and how they can be exploited,” she says. “Civil rights violations occur in many areas, but it seems that in many people’s minds it is still okay to discriminate against immigrants. And the role of civil rights is to protect the most vulnerable people in the country, many of whom don’t have a voice.”

Victims of trafficking are particularly vulnerable, Pope says. “Traffickers teach their victims to be afraid of the authorities, telling them that they will be jailed or shipped home by police if discovered.” Because many victims come from countries where police are viewed as corrupt, they are often loathe to reach out for help in any event, and key witnesses often share those fears. That’s why Pope hopes immigration reform will find a way to bring illegal immigrants safely “out of the shadows.” “We have to give those who are otherwise law-abiding, hardworking people a way to be in the country legally. They are the ones who have information, but who don’t come forward for fear of deportation. Those people are also the most ripe for exploitation by their employers or even by countrymen who are here legally.”

Such was the case of Theresa Mubang, who Pope prosecuted for bringing young girls from her native Cameroon to the United States to work as domestic slaves – one was just 11-years-old. “Mubang told one girl’s parents that she was giving her a wonderful opportunity to have access to an American education and other opportunities, and that she would treat the girl as her own daughter. In fact, she did not even allow her to go to school, but kept her in the house to cook and clean,” Pope recalls.
When neighbors passed along their suspicions to authorities, Mubang sent the girl back to Cameroon and brought over another one from the same community.

Having traveled to Cameroon with federal investigators to interview the girls’ families, Pope says she was struck by how touched some of them were that the United States would care about how their children were treated. “It brought home to us that we were doing something truly worthwhile.”

Pope is currently taking her interest in affecting policy at the intersection of civil rights and criminal law in a new direction, having joined the Senate Judiciary Committee staff of Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) in September. An advisor to the senator on issues relating to immigration, civil rights, constitutional law, and homeland security, Pope says it was both challenging and exciting to take charge of a Committee hearing for the first time in late January; she prepared the research and witness list for a hearing, which Feinstein chaired, on the effectiveness of the four-year-old US-VISIT program, which monitors entry into the United States. “The hearing followed up on a Government Accountability Office report which cited problems implementing the program at the land borders,” Pope explains. “We were looking at what needs to be fixed.”

Pope is unabashed in her appreciation of the opportunities she found at Duke
Law School, where she says she was “very deliberate” in laying the groundwork for the career path she has chosen. In addition to serving as editor-in-chief of Law & Contemporary Problems, she spent semesters in the Criminal Litigation and Death Penalty Clinics working with Professor James Coleman, who she counts as a mentor, as she does Dean Katharine T. Bartlett, who Pope “idolized” as a gender scholar and teacher. “Duke was a small school where I felt tremendous support from the faculty and where I knew I could really get things done. There was money available, there was advice available, and there were supportive people. That gave me a lot of confidence.”