Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Liberal Studies

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

immigration attorney; immigration law; Spanish language acquisition; cultural competence; intercultural training; Oaxacan immigrants


The roles of second language acquisition and cultural competence in the training of attorneys have been explored by legal scholars and law professors. Some suggest that such training ought to be administered to law students as a component of their law school curricula. Others argue that, in an increasingly globalized legal field, “experiential learning” is essential for developing linguistically-proficient and culturally-competent lawyers. Despite the growing presence of undocumented Oaxacan immigrants in the U.S., scholars have yet to investigate the linguistic and cultural training of U.S. immigration attorneys who represent these immigrants in legal contexts. The following research fills this gap in the scholarship by addressing the following question: How can second language acquisition and cultural competence training help to equip U.S. immigration attorneys to adequately represent undocumented Oaxacan immigrants in legal contexts? Through this investigation, I inquire about linguistic and cultural knowledge that most heavily informs attorneys’ intercultural communication with undocumented Oaxacan migrants, as well as the social, political, and economic factors that have shaped Oaxacan society. I discuss the myriad ways in which language skills and cultural competence enable U.S. immigration attorneys to foster trust and good rapport in attorney-client relationships. Finally, I gather, analyze, and synthesize valuable insights from interviews with two experienced attorneys in Oaxaca in order to discover the ways in which linguistic and cultural training can help to equip U.S. immigration attorneys to adequately represent undocumented Oaxacan immigrants in legal contexts.

Lay Summary

Proficiency in foreign languages and the ability to navigate cross-cultural situations are crucial elements to the work of immigration attorneys. However, it is not always clear how to equip immigration attorneys to use these specialized skills when representing clients in legal contexts. Should foreign languages be taught to law students in a classroom setting or should they spend a year in a foreign country, familiarizing themselves with the intricacies of the language through daily interaction with native speakers? Should immigration attorneys attend seminars or workshops to learn how to communicate effectively with those from other cultures or should they build networks with attorneys abroad, developing intercultural skills through interaction and collaboration? These questions become increasingly urgent as immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico enter the U.S. at higher rates and are unable to find trained legal advocates who can speak their languages and understand their backgrounds, lifestyles, and values. This project attempts to demonstrate why foreign language abilities and cross-cultural skills allow immigration attorneys to better understand who their clients are and, as a result, advocate for them more effectively in legal contexts. By synthesizing existing scholarship with the insights and experiences of immigration attorneys in Oaxaca, immigration attorneys can be trained to bridge cultural gaps, overcome their own cultural biases, cultivate trust in their attorney-client relationships, and account for the nuanced realities immigrants face in their native countries and the complex dynamics that cause them to migrate.