The Trans-Border Institute’s dedication to work that strengthens ties in the United States-Mexico border region has been constant since it was founded in 1994. In that time, TBI has built trust, respect and contacts to bring people from both countries together.
So it was not a surprise in 2009 when the University of San Diego’s School of Law wanted to develop a bi-national program to promote legal education and a cross-border exchange with Universidad Autónoma de Baja California that TBI was enlisted.
Among the many avenues TBI explores, its extensive work on the Justice in Mexico project has been a core component. In 2008, the Mexican Congress and President Felipe Calderón approved national legal reforms that are, according to TBI, “expected to dramatically transform the functioning of that judicial sector over the next decade.” The reforms “will transition Mexico’s long-standing inquisitorial system of criminal justice to a more rights-based accusatorial system, similar to that developed in the United States.”
Thus, the law school’s ability to utilize TBI’s knowledge was advantageous. Through TBI’s liaison role, the law school secured a three-year grant from Higher Education for Development (HED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The grant formed the USD-UABC Legal Education program, an educational exchange that combines training for lawyers and law students and events so the two can share insights and gauge the reforms process. USD law professors and TBI staff and lawyers go to Baja California for training. Mexican attorneys and judges attend roundtables and other activities at USD.
“Lawyers are trained to use the new ‘oral trial’ procedures that are intended to bring greater transparence, efficiency and fairness to Mexico's criminal justice system,” said TBI Director David Shirk, one of the principal investigators on the HED/USAID grant, in describing the work.
Octavio Rodriguez, TBI’s Justice in Mexico project coordinator, said the exchange program opens more possibilities for TBI and the School of Law in Mexico.
“If we can give them the opportunity to learn at USD and then they go back and apply it in Mexico, we’re helping them become an expert,” said Rodriguez, who says TBI has received inquiries from other states in Mexico who want to develop similar training programs in the wake of the reforms.
“We need more people involved, people with deep knowledge about both systems,” he said. “We want to bring Mexican lawyers here to study in the LLM program. We want to help them create a law clinic so they can do actual cases and teach and learn at the same time.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Learn more about the Trans-Border Institute.