Georgetown Alumnae Receive the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking
Two alumnae of the College of Arts & Sciences received the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking on behalf of their organization Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM). The award was signed by President Joe Biden and presented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to CDM founder Rachel Micah-Jones (C’00) and board president Cori Alonso-Yoder (C’04).
Awarded by the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the commendation recognizes the outstanding work that CDM has done over nearly two decades supporting Mexico-based migrants against corrupt and abusive employers.
“At CDM we provide migrant workers with the education and resources to address and prevent abuse,” said Micah-Jones. “We work in Mexico and the United States to arm workers with information about their rights and the services available to them so that they can make informed decisions about migration, prevent abuse and respond to situations when their rights are violated.”
Founding the Fight
After graduating from Georgetown, Micah-Jones went on to earn her law degree and started representing farm workers in employment and civil rights claims. She quickly realized that due to the seasonal nature of farm work, many migrants who stay in America for only a few months find it difficult to avail themselves of basic legal protections and worker support systems.
“When we had cases where workers did come forward, we often couldn’t pursue the cases,” remembered Micah-Jones. “Once the workers were back in Mexico, the organization I worked for couldn’t travel there for depositions and struggled to maintain contact with workers – we had significant limitations on our fight for fair labor practices.”
That frustration led Micah-Jones to take the bold leap to start her own organization, one which would operate in both Mexico and the United States, providing workers with support on both sides of the border.
“The idea for CDM was to provide a base of support, to arm workers and to connect with them in their home communities where they feel comfortable talking to advocates, both in the United States and when they return home,” Micah-Jones explained.
To bridge the gap between legal resources available in the United States and migrants’ home communities in Mexico, Micah-Jones began reaching out to existing NGOs and pitching the program, but few were interested in becoming transnational advocates.
“I didn’t necessarily want to start an organization, but I felt very strongly about the idea and the intervention,” Micah-Jones explained. “I felt like I had to do it.”
A government major, Micah-Jones had seen her classmates on the Hilltop go on to change the world and took inspiration from the dynamism she had witnessed in school.
“Being at Georgetown and seeing people work to change policies, to start organizations – just to recognize that was possible was incredibly important,” said Micah-Jones. “I learned that we can and should take steps to change the world”
Growing the Organization
In the 17 years since Micah-Jones left her job to start CDM, the organization has grown tremendously, today counting more than 30 full-time employees and a dedicated board of legal and advocacy experts. Alonso-Yoder, now a law professor at George Washington University, first met Micah-Jones as an intern.
“Being Mexican-American from a working class background, I was always struck by how the work I saw my dad do throughout my childhood seemed invisible to others,” said Alonso-Yoder. “As an undergraduate at Georgetown, I dedicated my studies to work on behalf of my community and workers like my dad. Later, as a law student intern at CDM in Mexico, I was able to connect with and learn from workers advocating for their rights.”
Like Micah-Jones, Alonso-Yoder credits her undergraduate experience with equipping her with the tools necessary to set the world on fire.
“My connection to Georgetown and the opportunities I had there as a student, and later as a visiting professor at the law school, equipped me with the tools to communicate with workers and policymakers to make the dignity of migrants visible on the national level,” said Alonso-Yoder. “Visibility is especially vital when it comes to issues of forced labor and human trafficking. This is why the recognition from the President’s Interagency Task Force is particularly meaningful to me.”
For the entire CDM team, the award is a moment of recognition, but also a rallying cry that there’s more work to be done.
-by Hayden Frye (C’17)