UDC-DCSL Faculty, Students Spend Their Spring Break Helping Refugees
Monday, March 14, 2016
Posted by: Jordan Uhl
UDC Law students and faculty with CARA Pro Bono Project staff and volunteers.
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Washington, DC—Even on spring break, a time traditionally spent relaxing and being carefree, the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law's (UDC-DCSL) commitment to social justice and the public interest doesn't yield.
Nine UDC-DCSL students and paralegal Jordana Arias traveled to Dilley, TX, to volunteer at the family detention center under the supervision of Prof. Kristina Campbell and Associate Dean Jonathan Smith as part of the CARA Pro Bono Project.
Students prepared women and children who were seeking asylum for their "credible fear" interviews.
Jonathan Newton, a 2L at UDC-DCSL, represented a 20-year-old woman and her child who were fleeing Honduras because her domestic partner was affiliated with a notorious and violent gang, MS 18, and viewed her as property.
"The purpose of the interview is to establish that the refuge seeker has a credible fear of returning to her home country. The interview is a series of questions by an immigration asylum officer. It was my job to represent and prepare her for the interview. If we got a favorable determination of credible fear from the asylum officer her next hearing would be a bond hearing and a chance at asylum in the United States. A negative determination from the interview and she would become even more vulnerable to deportation," Newton said.
Returning home would put her and her child in great danger.
"If she stayed she would be subjected to continued brutal beatings at his hands. As she described the beatings she broke down and cried," Newton added. A full account of his work can be found here.
The trip was part of UDC-DCSL's Service-Learning program, where faculty supervise students in handling cases for disadvantaged clients, pro bono. In recent years, UDC-DCSL has sent teams to the Arizona-Mexico border and Karnes City, Texas.
Prof. Kristina Campbell also represented a family feeling violence in Honduras. The husband had been killed by a gang and the widowed mother of three fled. Ultimately, Campbell's preparation led to a finding that the woman had a credible fear of returning to Honduras.
After the hearing, the woman collapsed into Campbell's arms and cried.
"Her sobs were not ones of grief, but of relief; that for this moment, at least, she knows that she and her children will soon be released from the detention camp, and reunited with her legal permanent resident mother here in the United States, and she can apply for asylum for herself and her children," Campbell said. "What I want anyone reading this to take away from my story is this: these women and children are refugees. This is a humanitarian crisis, and we are treating people fleeing for their lives like criminals, when their only crime is the desire to live," Campbell said.
Campbell has been assisting with the Service-Learning program for several years and wrote about this year's trip here.
Jonathan Smith, Associate Dean of Experiential and Clinical Programs at UDC-DCSL, realized after the trip that he wasn't prepared for what he was about to witness.
"I have been a civil rights and anti-poverty lawyer for my career and have done a great deal of work with prisoners, including women and juveniles who are locked up. I am no stranger to clients who suffer greatly as they are put through the meat grinder of the criminal justice system or just because they are poor. Nothing, however, prepared me for seeing babies and young children in jail or the fear that was experienced by the women who shared their stories with me about being sent home," Smith said.
Over the course of their stay at the border, the UDC-DCSL crew won 7 of 7 seven hearings, a life-changing result for those families, and an indelible educational experience for the students. But, of course, the seven represent a tiny fraction of the unmet legal need.