Addressing Clean Air, Migration and Climate Change in Mexico

By Rachel Westrate ’21

I spent my summer working at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA, from its Spanish name Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente) in Mexico City, Mexico as an intern with the Climate Change and Human Rights programs. AIDA is a small nonprofit that works throughout Latin and South America on the issues of marine protection, fresh water, climate change, and human rights. They work with lawyers and scientists to support strategic litigation, help people advocate for their environmental rights, and promote sound environmental policies.

My work this summer had two main focuses. The first was supporting AIDA in their participation in the Observatorio Ciudadano de Calidad del Aire (OCCA), an organization comprised of several NGOs in the Mexico City area fighting to improve air quality in the Mexico City metropolitan zone. I researched and wrote memos concerning Mexico’s international obligations in protecting clean air as a human right, compared Mexico City’s new proposals to improve air quality to the recommendations from OCCA and Mexico’s National Court of Human Rights (Corte Nacional de Derechos Humanos), and monitored daily air quality in Mexico City in comparison to the World Health Organization limits (which are much lower than the Mexican national limits).

Group photo of Rachel Westrate '21 and her colleagues at AIDA, an evironmental NGO in Mexico

Rachel Westrate ’21 (ninth from left) and her colleagues at AIDA

My second project involved initial research on the link between migration and climate change, specifically for Central American migrants, and potential legal claims migrants might bring against those contributing to climate change. Currently, countries in the “dry corridor” of Central America, especially Honduras, are experiencing a historic drought, which is pushing people out of their local villages since they can no longer provide for their families through subsistence agriculture. Many of these people are moving to the United States seeking better opportunities—but currently, climate change is not a reason to grant asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and so many migrants are being detained at the border by a country who is responsible for contributing to climate change and the drought in their home countries. While in the very early stages, the topic of international immigration and climate change law is a burgeoning area which will gain importance as more and more people are pushed out of their homes by climate-related issues, and I was excited to be at the forefront of this research with AIDA this summer.

My summer experience at AIDA was incredible, and showed me the difference a small organization can make with a group of dedicated and passionate people. For more information on AIDA and the wonderful work they do, visit

Rachel Westrate, now a second-year J.D. student at HLS, spent her 1L summer in Mexico as a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow.

HLS hosts conference on law and development

ghrs-conferenceLegal scholars from across the globe gathered at Harvard Law School in July for a two-day conference on law and development. The conference is the latest in a series of conferences held periodically by a loose consortium of schools–including Harvard Law School, the University of Geneva, Renmin University of China, and the University of Sydney, Australia–on themes of broad shared interest. Previous meetings focused, respectively, on property, corporate governance, and dispute resolution. This year’s conference also included participants from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Seoul National University, the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. This year’s session explored law and development from five vantage points: Business and Trade; Gender and Family; Disability; China as a Case Study; and Three Examples of Potential for Reform.


Meet the 2017 Chayes Fellows

Nineteen Harvard Law School students have been awarded the 2017 Chayes International Public Service Fellowship, dedicated to the memory of Professor Abram Chayes, who taught at Harvard Law School for more than 40 years. These summer fellowships provide HLS students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks engaged in international public service within the governments of developing nations and those making transitions to peace, stability, and democracy, as well as the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them.

This year’s Fellows will spend this summer in Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Myanmar, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, and the United Kingdom, as well as in New York City. Read brief biographies and descriptions of their summer placements; we’ll bring you updates on their experiences later this summer!

Chayes Fellow Edith Sangueza ’18 on working at Insituto para las Mujeres en la Migracion in Mexico.

Teotihuacan and Xochimilco, Mexico.

Teotihuacan and Xochimilco, Mexico. Photos courtesy of Edith Sangueza.

I have really been enjoying my work at IMUMI. I have been working on three big client cases—two U visas (victims of criminal activity) and one VAWA visa (violence against women). I interviewed the three clients and drafted their declarations. All of my supervisor’s clients have been so generous and brave in sharing their stories. I sent out U visa certification requests to the relevant police departments, and we are waiting to hear back from them, hopefully with certification. While I learned about U and VAWA visas in my Immigration Law class, it has been a totally different matter to help put together a completed application, and I have a new understanding of how long and complicated a process it is to apply for a humanitarian visa.

I have also helped with a number of smaller tasks, such as requesting birth certificates and apostilles from different states where the clients’ children were born. Many Mexican national parents living in the U.S. don’t realize that they can register their U.S.-born children for dual nationality, and then once they return to Mexico, they need to request a copy of their child’s birth certificate, along with an apostille, before they can register their children as Mexican. Without Mexican nationality, children often can’t get access to important benefits such as medical care or food benefits, and sometimes they have difficulty enrolling in school.

Finally, building on a previous intern’s work, I am putting together a paper detailing the challenges that many transnational families face with access to identity. I am working on finishing as my time here winds down. The summer has really flown by, and I can’t believe I will only be here for another two weeks!

Meet the 2016 Chayes Fellows

Nineteen Harvard Law School students have been awarded 2016 Chayes International Public Service Fellowships. This summer the fellows will be working in Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Guam, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Ukraine, as well as San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Read the 2016 Chayes Fellows biographies.