NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Some people are hesitant to integrate their identity into their vocation, but for Lisa Koop, a passion for advocacy and social justice is not just part of who she is – it's her day job.
Koop works at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), a nonprofit organization with offices in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; as well as Goshen, Indiana. Koop serves as the associate director of legal services in the Goshen office. On a day-to-day basis, she directs the Center's asylum project, which provides legal representation for people seeking asylum in the United States. Koop also supervises NIJC's work with children seeking protection on their own or along with their parents, a role Koop has helped grow and adapt to significant shifts in government enforcement practices over the last few years.
"Family separation would be the biggest example of [change]," said Koop. She said that other current policies, such as increased detention time for asylum-seeking adults, as well as a recent attorney general decision ruling that most survivors fleeing gang and domestic violence will not qualify for asylum, "has a real impact on the advocacy work that we do."
Koop also specializes in federal litigation and advocacy on behalf of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, in which she works to identify and present cases to federal court in an effort to push for improvements to the current state of the law. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame Law School.
"This kind of work really influences everything that I do," said Koop. "My relationships, my spiritual life, my connection to my church … it's all very interconnected."
Throughout her college career, Koop explained that she never really contemplated working in law, and instead earned degrees in psychology and English. Upon graduating from Goshen College in 1999, Koop applied for Mennonite Voluntary Service [MVS], and served in Harlingen, Texas, with ProBAR, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, an organization that specializes in providing legal representation to people seeking asylum in the United States. Koop served two years with the organization, visiting detained asylum seekers and other immigrants, and helping to determine if they were eligible for relief from deportation. It was there that she realized she could be an advocate for social justice through law.
"MVS gave me the opportunity to explore a [vocation] that I probably otherwise wouldn't have encountered," Koop said. "I was able to really help people in very tangible ways." After completing her term with MVS, she went on to graduate magna cum laude from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in 2004.
NIJC's ability to support and expand their legal services to immigrants is made possible not only through grants and donations, but through community involvement by individuals as well as churches. "There's been some really creative thinking and unique advocacy happening on the ground in a lot of our Mennonite churches," said Koop. She described that churches around the Goshen NIJC office have come together to form a network of volunteers who support immigrants by driving them to legal appointments, tutoring English studies, as well as assisting with fees for immigration applications.
MVS provides opportunities for young adults to serve with a multitude of nonprofit partners across the United States and to connect with a local congregation while living in intentional community with peers. For more information, visit www.MennoniteMission.net/MVS.