Rahma Taha’s first call to service was her father’s mandate for her and her siblings to serve food at her mosque in Tampa, Florida. When it was time to break the fast during Ramadan, they served other members of their community before they could feed themselves. Granted, she initially turned down the task because she was 10 years old and hungry, but her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Kuwait after leaving Palestine, taught her to have a spirit of service. This lesson in selflessness has guided much of her life.
Today, as a student at Georgia State College of Law, she is deeply invested in helping immigrants trapped in the criminal justice system. She recently received a John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation grant to continue her work in the City of Atlanta Immigration Defense Unit – the first in the history of the College of Law. Here she talks about the problems she faces at night and how her experience as a second generation American drives her work.
How did you get right?
The law had never crossed my mind until I graduated from university. I changed my main subject a lot throughout my school days, but I was consistently politically active on campus. Most of my political engagement has been based on being Muslim and being an immigrant. I was born in Florida, but I wear a hijab, speak Arabic, and adopted my parents’ Palestinian culture. So my experience is like that of an immigrant. It’s not a lonely place because a lot of Americans are out there because they have a culture that others give them.
I ended up majoring in creative writing, which I loved to do in high school. I thought about graduating, getting published, and teaching. But one of my friends suggested we research the law. I thought about it, and after the Muslim ban it became clear that more diverse voices are needed in the field of law.
What was your favorite class so far?
My favorite professor is Natsu Saito. She teaches you so much in the International Human Rights Seminar; It is more than expected when you walk through the door. It gave me a different perspective on immigrant rights because when an immigrant leaves their country they lose the rights they had in the previous country, but they have not yet received citizenship rights in the new country. It has helped me step back and understand the immigrants’ struggle for human rights and the role of international law throughout the process.
You mentioned that despite your birth in the United States, you had an immigrant experience. Did you find a welcoming community at Georgia State Law?
Yes. I am also the type who creates this environment everywhere. I love law school. My group of friends is very mixed. I feel like the state of Georgia encourages this and likes it when people bring their cultures to the table. I feel at home in the state of Georgia and am accommodated whenever I have a question about my religion or worldview. I feel like I can access anyone I need with any questions I have, whenever I need.
Why do you recommend Georgia State Law for students considering law school?
It really is a community. That word gets thrown around a lot, but the professors here have always been very welcoming and excited and ready to work with students. There really is a community among professors, students, and administrators. I will be walking around the school and I can just chat with the deans, which is not an experience for most undergraduate people. There is no “we” against “them”. We are compared to typical legal experiences.
Interview by Kelundra Smith