Kara Hartzler ’94 speaks upon accepting the David Carliner Public Interest Award from the American Constitution Society in 2013.

‘Borders, Jails, and Long Drives in the Desert’: Immigrant rights attorney Kara Hartzler ’94 to present Keim Lecture

Federal public defender, immigrant rights attorney and playwright Kara Hartzler ’94 will give the spring 2019 Keim Lecture Series presentation at Eastern Mennonite University.

Titled “Borders, Jails, and Long Drives in the Desert: 25 Years of Immigration Law in the Southwest,” her talk will be followed by a reception and immigrant advocacy organization fair.

The event, in Martin Chapel at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, is free and open to the public.

“Kara has been a tireless advocate for immigrant rights for the past quarter-century,” said Professor Mark Metzler Sawin, history department chair. “Her passion, compassion and care for the ‘least of these’ perfectly models EMU’s values of ‘doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.’”

Hartzler, a federal public defender in San Diego, California, has also served as a legal director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, where she conducted Know-Your-Rights presentations for detained immigrants. She has authored numerous books, articles and resources for defense attorneys, and has taught at the University of Arizona College of Law. In addition, she has testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration, served as an electoral observer in El Salvador, and participated in a humanitarian delegation to Iraq.

Prior to becoming an attorney, she earned an MFA in playwriting from the University of Iowa, and her plays have been produced across the United States and Mexico, including No Roosters in the Desert at EMU in 2012.

“EMU gave me two things that have served me well,” Hartzler said recently: “First, it was small enough to allow me to try lots of things – theater, a semester abroad, community living and social justice groups, among others. Over my career, I’ve found that solutions that lie at the intersection of these areas of interest are often the most interesting and effective. Second, EMU encouraged self-reflection, humility and a global consciousness, all of which can be in short supply in the legal world.”

She is the recipient of the 2018 E. Stanley Conant Award for Indigent Defense, the 2017 Outstanding Assistant Federal Defender award, the 2013 David Carliner Public Interest Award, the 2013 Randy Tunac Courage in Immigration Award, and the 2010 Robert J. Hooker Award for service to the defender community.

During her Harrisonburg visit, Hartzler will also speak to the Anabaptist Center for Religion and Society (ACRS), a community of elders bringing critical thinking and a prophetic voice to the engagement with local and world issues.

“First and foremost, I hope audiences will just enjoy hearing stories about the people and places I’ve experienced along the border over the last 25 years,” Hartzler said. “And if audience members can hear those stories and come away with a slightly better understanding of the complexities of immigration law and policy and how our decisions from the past have led us to where we are today, I’ll be ecstatic.”

More about the Albert N. Keim Lecture Series

Hartzler was a student of professor Albert “Al” N. Keim, who died in 2008 at the age of 72 of complications following a liver transplant. He had served as a professor at EMU for 35 years and was the academic dean from 1977 to 1984. The lecture series honors his memory.

Learn more about past presenters, in this sampling:

2017: Dr. Dongping Han, professor at Warren-Wilson College and a native of rural China, offered “The Cultural Revolution: A Reinterpretation from Today’s China.”

2016: Artist/activist Mark Strandquist provided a lecture titled “Performing Statistics: Connecting incarcerated youth, artists, and leading policy experts to challenge Virginia’s juvenile justice system.”

2015: Charles R. Epp, political scientist in the University of Kansas’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, presented “The Police and Racial Discrimination in America.”

2014: Vincent Harding, a pastor, activist and history professor who helped EMC professors initiate social change in Harrisonburg during the early 1960s, presented “Is America Possible?”