A record-setting $25 million gift to the University of Minnesota Law School will help fund the school's Center for New Americans, which has filed lawsuits on behalf of immigrant families and has dispatched attorneys and law students to the airport in the wake of President Donald Trump's efforts to bar immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations.
The Minneapolis-based Robina Foundation, founded by former Honeywell president and board chairman James Binger, announced the award Monday afternoon. It is the single largest philanthropic gift in the law school's 129-year history.
Most of the money, $23.5 million, will support the Center for New Americans, to be renamed after Binger. The remaining funds will be used to establish a professorship in clinical law at the center and for student scholarships.
The center — which focuses on immigration, asylum, detainee rights, refugee law and policy — was founded in 2013 with the help of a $9 million grant from the Robina Foundation. It works with law firms and nonprofits on immigration issues; for instance, in 2013 the center, along with Minneapolis firm Faegre Baker Daniels, successfully argued a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a deportation.
Kathleen Blatz, chairwoman of the Robina Foundation and a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, called the center's work, coupled with the training opportunities for law students, "unparalleled in the U.S."
"We know of no other program like this," Blatz said.
While the foundation decided on the $25 million gift last summer, current events further underscore the need to protect immigrants and refugees who have become neighbors, co-workers and friends, U President Eric Kaler said.
"We only have to look at the headlines today to understand the importance of this gift," Kaler said. "There are very few issues as pressing today in Minnesota and around the nation as the legal and public policies about and the fate of our immigrant and refugee communities."
Dean Garry W. Jenkins said the gift would establish the U Law School as a 21st-century model for clinical legal education that broadens students' worldview and commits them to using their education for reform and justice.
"Behind the rhetoric are the real lives of immigrants and refugees who, like our forefathers, want to start a new life in this country," he said.
A vital part of community
After Trump signed executive orders halting the refugee program and suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the center and its partners mobilized a "rapid response" that trained lawyers and law students and then dispatched them.
The center helped file lawsuits on behalf of families and documented the effect Trump's orders had on Minnesotans, information that Attorney General Lori Swanson used in her lawsuit against the travel ban.
Law students with the center, along with attorneys from Minneapolis firm Dorsey & Whitney and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, represented Minnesota resident Samira Dahir. Her 4-year-old daughter, Mushkaad, was set to leave Uganda and join her family in the Twin Cities when Trump signed the order barring Somalis.
Because of help received from the center, its partners and Minnesota's two U.S. senators, the little girl arrived in Minneapolis last week. The Center's other partners are Minneapolis law firm Robins Kaplan, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Advocates for Human Rights.
On Monday, Dahir expressed excitement when she heard the news that the law school had received $25 million to continue helping refugees.
"The lawyers have been good to me," Dahir said. "They have really helped us." She said she couldn't have gotten her girl without the assistance she received.
"In a short period, the center has proven itself to be a vital part of our community and a highly influential entity at a time when immigration is at the center of the national conversation," Blatz said. "This project is consistent with the legacy of James Binger and his desire to promote transformational philanthropy."
Binger started the Robina Foundation in 2004, months before his death. The foundation, with more than $75 million in assets, according to its 2014 tax filings, awards grants to four institutions: Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the U Law School, both in Minneapolis; the Council on Foreign Relations in New York; and Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
Including this latest gift, the foundation has given nearly $60 million to the law school.
Binger grew up on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, graduating from St. Paul Academy in 1934 and Yale University with a degree in economics in 1938. He graduated from the U Law School in 1941. He was president of Honeywell from 1961 to 1965 and chairman of the board from 1965 to 1974.
Benjamin Casper Sanchez, the center's director, said the effect of its work will extend well beyond the current political winds.
"We've been here for four years working cases across two administrations," Casper Sanchez said. "We are going to be here decades and decades in the future."