Dean's Fellow aims to serve as an advocate for immigrants


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Fatmeh Cheaib had often been told she would make a great lawyer—but truly found her inspiration when President Trump issued the travel ban executive order directly targeting Muslims.

“As an Arab American Muslim, it was truly inspiring to see attorneys rush to the airports to represent individuals being wrongfully detained,” she says. “Seeing a federal judge block that ban made me feel like there was someone representing me and I wanted to be that voice for someone, someday. To me, being an attorney is being a professional advocate.”

Now a 1L student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Cheaib got a small taste of the legal world after graduating high school, interning with Thornbladh Legal Group PLLC in Dearborn.

“Kurt Thornbladh taught me countless lessons on work ethic, professionalism, and channeling passion,” she says. “I’m forever thankful for the experience he has given me.”

Cheaib was so eager to attend law school that she earned her undergrad degree in political science from Wayne State University in 2.5 years, instead of the recommended 4 years.

“While taking 18 credits a semester and full-time summer classes, I always kept my eye on the prize. I knew exactly what I wanted and now I’m finally here, I couldn’t be happier,” she says
Cheaib is very appreciative of her Detroit Mercy Law experience.

“The faculty and administration has made me feel so welcomed and appreciated. The open-door policy enacted by my professors has encouraged me to ask questions, seek help, and build relationships. During this pandemic, I’ve no doubt my school has my best interest at heart,” she says.

“It’s important for me to prioritize my family and my mental health. And one of the ways I do this is by studying—it gives me an opportunity to escape what is going on around me and look to the future. I truly love what I’m learning and that, within itself, is helping me cope.”

Being a Dean’s Fellow is both a privilege and a responsibility, she says.

“I feel honored to have the opportunity to interact with alumni and network with Detroit attorneys,” she says. “With that, comes my role in representing the University. Having a Dean’s Fellowship has opened up a wide range of opportunities and has reminded me to be the best version of myself.”

Cheaib started law school with a particular interest in immigration law, and now is also interested in civil rights law, transactional work, and torts.

“As a child of immigrants, I understand the fight immigrant communities go through and I want to help ease that struggle,” she says. “After being exposed to different practice areas, I’ve developed a love for other areas of the law I wish to explore further.

“My ultimate career goal is to strengthen communities and creatively advocate for my clients. While I’m still uncertain as to what area of the law I want to practice, I know I want to be a voice for someone.”

As vice president of the school’s Immigration Law Association, Cheaib’s main goal is to shed light on issues immigrant families face.

“Before the pandemic, I hosted a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals debate that was inspired by the upcoming Supreme Court decision,” she says. “It was important for me to bring this issue to awareness to the future generation of lawyers. Even if I choose to pursue another area of law, I will always be an immigration advocate.”

]The Arab American Law Student Association (AALSA) was planning to hold its first annual fund-raiser on March 13; then all school events were cancelled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“While it was upsetting to know we wouldn’t get to fund-raise for incoming minority students—the purpose of the fund-raiser—the group decided it was best to direct our attention to the current crisis,” Cheaib says. “The members of AALSA reached out to donors and raised enough money to donate five laptops to K-12 students who were now forced to take classes online. We recognized there are people in our community that were not as fortunate as others, and we wanted to make the switch to online classes a little bit easier.”

The lifelong Dearborn native enjoys visiting museums, surrounding herself with history, culture and art; favorites include Greenfield Village, the Henry Ford Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. She also loves spending time with her family.
“My parents raised me to value family over everything. Because of this, my extended family and I all live on the same street. Together, my family makes up eight houses on the street,” she says. “I spend most of my free time with them. Whether it be watching movies, bowling, or just spending time with my grandma, I always find time for my family.”

Cheaib’s mother works in the hematology lab at the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) downtown.

“She is one of the thousands of Americans serving during this pandemic,” Cheaib says. “My mother has inspired me to pursue my passions and I’m incredibly grateful for her endless support.”


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