The Advocate: Anne Marie Mulcahy ’00

A lawyer, inspired by her parents and Jesuit volunteer work, protects and defends the country’s immigrant youth.

Mulcahy and her sister, Geraldine Subba ’03, and their children.
Mulcahy and her sister, Geraldine Subba ’03, and their children.

Ignacio’s* story is one of thousands. A refugee child — abused and neglected by his family — appears unaccompanied before a U.S. immigration judge for his deportation proceeding, not understanding nor able to respond to a legal system that will determine his fate. He is traumatized, frightened and alone. And all that stands between Ignacio and deportation back to Guatemala is a pro bono attorney trying to work within a system that doesn’t always provide fair and appropriate treatment.

Anne Marie Mulcahy ’00 had seen cases like Ignacio’s all too many times while working at Kids In Need of Defense (KIND). As a young lawyer, she was charged with creating a network of pro bono attorneys — recruited from law firms, corporations, nongovernmental organizations and universities — who could provide quality, compassionate legal counsel to children like Ignacio. Long hours, an overwhelming caseload, insufficient resources and emotional trauma were all part of the job. It was a daunting task even for a seasoned lawyer. But whether it was kismet or following in her family’s footsteps, Mulcahy, now director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Unaccompanied Children Program, knew she was destined to advocate for the marginalized and disadvantaged, especially children.

Altruism, Taught

As a child, Mulcahy was inspired by her family’s altruism. She recalled how her parents volunteered for Project Children, a nonprofit founded in 1975 by her uncle Denis Mulcahy, which provides an opportunity for Protestant and Catholic children from troubled areas in Northern Ireland to spend the school holidays in a peaceful environment in the United States.

“It was ingrained in me from a young age,” said Mulcahy. “For as long as I can remember, I believed that the best way to make the world a better place was to make a difference in the lives of children.”

Mulcahy, the mother of two girls, grew up in Rockland County, New York, the eldest of four children. (Her sister, Geraldine Subba, is Class of 2003.) When the time came to explore colleges, she had a simple requirement: a small, liberal-arts college close to home. Her high school counselor recommended Scranton.

“I remember when I was reviewing the information about Scranton, I discovered it was a Jesuit university. I had no idea what a Jesuit was,” said Mulcahy. “I clearly know what a Jesuit is now.”

During her junior year, Mulcahy participated in Scranton’s International Service Trip to Ecuador, which she credited with solidifying her career path to becoming an advocate for the “people whom society ignores or avoids.”

Alexandra Abboud Miller ’00, a dear friend of Mulcahy’s, was always supportive of her friend’s career choice. “Anne Marie approaches her work as a lawyer, her love for her family and our friendship with optimism and passion,” said Abboud Miller. “She is always open to what’s next and not afraid to be vulnerable or love with her whole heart.”

While her Scranton experience gave her direction, Mulcahy knew fulfilling her dream required a “tool,” and law school seemed the most logical path.

In Pursuit of Justice and Fairness

Mulcahy earned her degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. During this time, she had her first realworld experience, as a legal intern assisting an American Bar Association attorney in drafting the standards for working with unaccompanied alien children.

Within a short period of time, Mulcahy’s career found traction. She did a two-year Jesuit Refugee Fellowship in Miami, which involved providing services to forcibly displaced people from around the world, specifically focusing on asylum for those fleeing persecution in their native land.

Mulcahy then returned to New York to work for the Administration for Children’s Services, representing the agency in abuse and neglect cases. Within a year, overwhelmed by the emotional stress and extreme caseload, she took a position with the Westchester County Attorney’s office, but, there, she missed the direct interaction with immigrant youth. She moved on to a position at KIND, where she not only worked with unaccompanied youth but also collaborated with Vera, an independent, nonprofit national research and policy organization that seeks to promote justice and fairness for all people. This association proved serendipitous.

A Cooperative Spirit

For the past five years, as the director of Vera’s Unaccompanied Children Program, Mulcahy has managed a network of more than 30 legal services organizations, which provide assistance to immigrant children in removal proceedings who are detained in, or have recently been released from, federal custody. Additionally, she coordinates with government agencies and plans for the changes that may occur as the number of children fluctuates.

When she started in 2011, the program processed 7,000 to 8,000 children annually. Today, the number hovers around 60,000. Her secret to the program’s success: a cooperative spirit.

“Advocating for children is only half of what I do,” said Mulcahy. “In order to make the system work, I have to know how to maintain strong relationships with judges, clerks and attorneys. It’s the best way to get things done for the children.”

Mulcahy credited the Scranton community of Jesuits, professors and classmates for providing the guidance, support and resources for nurturing her cooperative spirit.

“Scranton challenges you to do something meaningful and always look for the next opportunity to give back for the many privileges you enjoy,” said Mulcahy. “The supportive environment at Scranton is one of a kind. It’s not easy to find that again after graduation.”

As for Ignacio, his story makes everything she does worthwhile. Years after she matched him with a pro bono attorney for his immigration case, Mulcahy received a package from that attorney containing a letter from Ignacio, a bottle of perfume and photo of him clad in a military uniform. He thanked her for helping him live his dream to be a U.S. Army soldier.

“Not all stories are as happy as Ignacio’s,” Mulcahy admitted, “but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

*Name changed to protect the innocent.

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