Rahma Taha’s first call to serve was a mandate from her father that she and her siblings would serve food at their mosque in Tampa, Fla. When it was time to break the fast during Ramadan, they served other members of their congregation before feeding themselves. She admittedly resented the task at first, because she was 10 years old and hungry, but her parents, who migrated to the U.S. from Kuwait after leaving Palestine, were teaching her to have a spirit of service. That lesson in selflessness has guided much of her life.
Today, as a student at Georgia State College of Law, she is deeply invested in helping immigrants who are caught up in the criminal justice system. She recently received a fellowship from the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation to continue her work in the City of Atlanta Immigration Defense Unit —the first in the College of Law’s history. Here, she talks about the issues that keep her up at night and how her experience as a second-generation American drives her work.
How did you become interested in law?
Law was never in my mind until senior year of college. I changed my major a lot throughout school, but I was consistently involved politically on campus. Most of my political involvement was based on being a Muslim and being an immigrant. I was born in Florida, but I wear a hijab, speak Arabic and I’ve taken my parents’ Palestinian culture, so my experience is like that of an immigrant. It’s not a lonely place, because a lot of Americans are on the outside because they have a culture that others them.
For my major, I finally landed in creative writing, which is what I loved doing in high school. I thought about pursuing a graduate degree, getting published and teaching. But, one of my friends suggested I explore law. I thought about it, and after the Muslim ban, it became clear that there is a need for more diverse voices in the field of law.
What has been your favorite class so far?
My favorite professor is Natsu Saito. She teaches you so much in the International Human Rights Seminar; it’s more than what you thought it would be when you walk through the door. It gave me a different perspective on the rights of immigrants, because when an immigrant leaves their country, they’re kind of shedding the rights they had in the previous country, but they haven’t yet received the rights of citizenship in the new country. It helped me step back and understand the immigrants’ struggle for human rights and the role of international law throughout this entire process.
You mentioned having an immigrant experience, despite being born in the U.S. Have you found a welcoming community at Georgia State Law?
Yes. I’m also the type of person who will create that environment wherever I go. I love the law school. My friend group is very mixed. I feel like Georgia State fosters that and likes to have people bring their cultures to the table. I feel comfortable at Georgia State, and anytime I have a request related to my religion or beliefs, I am accommodated. I feel like I can access whoever I need, whenever I need, with whatever questions I have.
For students who are considering law school, why would you recommend Georgia State Law?
It’s really a community. That word gets thrown around a lot, but the professors here have always been very inviting and are excited and eager to work with students. There is really a community among the professors, students and administrators. I’ll be walking around the school and I can just have a conversation with the deans, which is not an experience most people have in undergrad. There’s no “us” versus “them.” It’s us versus the typical law school experience.
Interview by Kelundra Smith