Copy of Marshallese and the Law Community in Northwest Arkansas

Marshallese and the Law Community in Northwest Arkansas


While taking a Human Centered Design course, my class collaborated with the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese to learn about the Marshallese community living in our area. More than 10,000 Marshallese people live in Northwest Arkansas, making it the largest population of Marshallese citizens outside of the Marshall Islands. Marshallese people are allowed to work in the US with only their Marshallese citizenship and have come to Arkansas for the many jobs.  However, most Arkansans are unaware that this unique community lives here, and often mistake them for hispanic immigrants. 

Each team tackled a specific issue that impacts the Marshallese community in Arkansas. My partner, Justin Seymore, and I focused on informing the law community in Arkansas of the legal issues specific to the Marshallese community living in their state. Following the research methods in IDEO’s “Field Guide to Human-Centered Design,” we conducted first-hand research with lawyers working within this population, leaders within the Marshallese community, and law professors who were unaware of these issues. Our final audience would be the law community–specifically law students, public defenders, judges, prosecutors, and district court clerks.  We then visualized this data to help us imagine possible design solutions for this audience.


After conducting our research, we concluded that the most imminent issues regarding the Marshallese in the justice system were due to cultural and language barriers. Due to lack of translation, not understanding their fifth amendment rights, and a high cultural respect for authority, it is not uncommon for them to incriminate themselves, guilty or not. This is especially detrimental when unknowingly agreeing to charges during an arrest. Since they can be deported for even minor offenses under the classification of “crimes of moral turpitude,” dealing with a Marshallese client requires full understanding of their situations, barriers, and legal status.

We then designed final deliverables in order to communicate the legal status of Marshallese citizens, develop understanding of common cultural language barriers, and encourage empathy in dealing with the Marshallese community. 

Final design deliverables included:

Video: 2 minute brief introduction and summary of the history behind why they are here, explaining why they are here legally. This also outlines the common legal issues Marshallese face due to cultural and language differences. This video is designed to show in a legal class.

Tri-Fold Pamphlet: Accompanies video, detailing complications with the legal system, the history of why they are here, and how these issues pertain to the future. The back contains organizations to contact, known cases, and links to online information. 

Interactive Pocket Handout: Outlines 5 specific legal problems in a concise manner in order to easily digest and spark interest in the subject.