Two Hispanic law students will get internship posts at the Suffolk County district attorney’s office this summer so they can learn the legal ropes while assisting prosecutors with community outreach as part of a new summer scholarship program announced Wednesday.
The scholarships — which will go to Touro Law Center students selected through an essay application process — were described as a small step to improve relations with the county’s growing Hispanic community.
“One of the biggest issues that we’ve had is the immigrant community does not feel comfortable going to law enforcement,” said David Mejias, vice-president of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association.
The U.S. Department of Justice has recommended that the county make greater efforts to reach out to the immigrant community as part of its investigation into discriminatory policing allegations stemming from the hate killing of immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008.
Mejias said that while District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office “has had an open-door policy” toward immigrants, advocates “want to make sure that that continues.”
Edward Heilig, a division chief for the district attorney’s office, said having bilingual law interns “will be invaluable to us” in helping overcome language barriers and reaching out to Latino crime victims. “We have Spanish-speaking victim advocates. They are sorely overworked; we don’t have enough of them.”
The two students selected will receive $5,000 each in stipends, which will be funded through a donation from Bethpage Federal Credit Union.
Kastherine Matos, 24, a third-year law student who is president of the Latino/Latina American Law Students Association at Touro, said more efforts are needed to improve Hispanic representation in government agencies. “It is a priority,” Matos said, “to get more Latinos into public service.”