Julie LeMaster: Fighting for Immigrants in Cincinnati and Beyond

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Earlier this summer, we checked in with Julie Leftwich LeMaster, co-founder of the Immigrant & Refugee Law Center based out of Roberts Paideia Academy. With immigration and asylum seekers being a hot button issue right now, the I.R.L.C. is growing exponentially as the need for immigrant and refugee services increases. Julie’s story was so inspiring we decided to extend it and show our readers why she is one of Cincinnati’s most badass legal women.

Interview by Blaire Bartish. Photography by Alex Larrison.

She’s a true parcel-tongue.

Working with people from other countries means that you have to be a citizen of the world. One way to become a global citizen is by speaking the language. “I speak Spanish fluently. I used to speak French very well, but now that’s rusty. There was a time in my life I spoke Hebrew very well. And at one point I spoke Serbo-Croatian. And then I can understand a lot of other languages knowing Spanish… I can have conversations with Italians and Brazilians.”

She’s on the move!

The I.R.L.C. is about to open its second office at the Academy of World Languages. While stationed at Roberts, they work with families from 26 different countries spread across 23 different area schools. People come from all around the city, and as the word spreads, they are finding more need from the community. 

[Editor’s Note: The I.R.L.C.’s office at the Academy of World Languages is now open.]


She’s kind of a big deal in the immigrant community.

As more and more people share the wonderful things the I.R.L.C. and Welcome Center at Roberts are doing for Cincinnati, the more recommended they’ve become. Julie says she’s been told that some of her clients heard about her from over 1,000 miles away. “We have clients that say when they crossed the border or were in the detention facilities, people say, ‘If you’re going to Cincinnati, go to Roberts and ask for the lawyer.’ And [Welcome Center director] Antonio [Fernandez] told me that somebody said they were told before they crossed the border, in Mexico!”

She’s working with local government to increase safety for undocumented citizens in Ohio.

Recently, Julie partnered with City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld to help create a rapid response network to protect local residents from the latest proposed ICE raids in the Queen City. They are working to establish Cincinnati as a sanctuary city in order to support immigrants and people looking for a safe and welcoming place to call home. “It shows that the city is concerned about its people,” she says. 


She’s proud of her roots at the University of Cincinnati.

Julie is a graduate of the Urban Morgan Human Rights Institute (U.M.H.R.I.) at the University of Cincinnati Law School. The U.M.H.R.I., founded in 1979, is one of the oldest places in the country where law students can learn about cases and human rights using the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “[U.M.H.R.I.] has been a big part of my life, and many people don’t realize this amazing facility is right in our backyard.” She has been utilizing students there to help fight the good fight as part of her internship and volunteer attorney program.

She wants you to know that you don’t have to go to the border to help people.

“Families don’t stay at the border,” Julie says. While there are people struggling in Texas and Mexico, they eventually move into the rest of the contiguous United States. New immigrants arrive daily, and there are many ways you can support them. While financial assistance is always appreciated, the I.R.L.C. is always looking for volunteers: attorneys, communication specialists, fundraisers, and more. “Yes, the border is bad,” she says, “but it’s bad everywhere. It doesn’t stop at the border.”

[Author’s note: If you are interested in helping to protect immigrants and refugees in the Cincinnati area, please visit www.irlawcenter.org/ways-to-give. If you are interested in volunteering or creating a community partnership with the I.R.L.C., please email using the link www.irlawcenter.org/contact.]