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Immigration & Human Rights Clinic Partners with Human Rights First to Help Families File for Asylum

Friday, November 24, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Erin Looney
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Last week, the UDC Law Immigration & Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) partnered with Human Rights First (HRF) to help ten families apply for asylum. As part of HRF’s Adults with Children Legal Services Initiative at the Baltimore immigration court, the workshop was open to families fleeing domestic violence and violence and threats at the hands of powerful transnational criminal organizations in Central America.

Human Rights First’s Adults with Children Legal Services Initiative addresses the low levels of representation for families seeking asylum whose cases are with the Baltimore immigration court. The workshop at UDC Law offered assistance for this critically needed gap in legal services. Prior to the event, IHRC Co-Director Professor Lindsay M. Harris explained how working with families to file can help close that gap. “ These families are all up against the one year filing deadline for asylum or have been designated by a judge for the ‘last chance docket.’ They have already missed the deadline and would not be able to preserve their eligibility for protection without this assistance. It's going to be an intense day—all are fleeing gang or gender-based violence and all are parents here with their children seeking safety.”

Along with HRF staff attorneys Ashley Warmeling and Laura Nally, Legal Services Coordinator Sugeily Fernandez, and the HRF social work team, students kicked off the day at 9:00 a.m. and stayed until after 7:00 p.m. wrapping up the cases. In all, the IHRC filed 13 applications for nine adults (seven mothers, two fathers, and four children). The families left with a thumb drive containing all their information, printed copies of their applications, and careful instructions on where to file.

The workshop garnered participation from around UDC Law. In addition to Professor Harris, Clinical Instructor Saba Ahmed, and the HRF staff, current and former Immigration & Human Rights Clinic students and first year students offered their service. Current Clinic students included Carmen Diaz Jones, Maggie Dawson, Tijuana Barnes, Christina Lombardi, Kelechi Agbakwuru. First year students included Liz Mary Mejia, Justice Haynes, Sesia Cruz, Stephanie Dalecki, Aditi Ramesh, Daniel Munoz, and Estefania McCarroll. Heather Kryzak, who will take the Clinic in the Spring, and Liana Montecinos, who previously took the Clinic, also lent their time. Furthermore, UDC Law staff members offered a hand as needed throughout the day. Clinic Staff Assistant Sandy Arce worked as an interpreter, Executive Assistant to the Dean Pamala Dunston stepped in to notarize a key document, and Technical Support Specialist Joseph Marceda troubleshot the day’s technical issues.

Montecinos reflected on the workshop. “As a Honduran asylee, being able to be an advocate within my own community is powerful for me and empowering for the asylum seekers I have the privilege of helping. I am not in this for the attention, prestige, or money, but to save lives, like one day mine was saved. I came to UDC Law for the clinical experience, and after taking the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, I was impressed at the compassion, knowledge, and hard work from the professors and the students. I continue to work with the clinic as much as I can because it is my opportunity to directly save lives.”

For Harris, “a powerful takeaway for students for the day was the critical need for legal services and the difference that each of us can make with the skills and legal training we have acquired in changing the lives of a family for the better. It also highlights the widespread problems with access to justice and representation in the legal system and the particular inadequacies of immigration court, a venue where the government is always represented by trained prosecutors.”

Students in the UDC Law Immigration & Human Rights Clinic learn about the specialized area of immigration law and other areas of law (such as employment law and civil rights law) that frequently concern representation of noncitizens and immigrants’ rights more generally. Students represent clients under the supervision of the clinic director and a graduate student instructor. Last month, the Clinic received the 2017 CORO Community Service Award from the DC Superior Courts.

Photo of UDC Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic students and professors

Front: Heather Kryzak, Ashley Warmeling, Prof. Lindsay M. Harris, Daniel Munoz, Tijuana Barnes
Second row: Sugeily Fernandez, Aditi Ramesh, Estefania McCarroll, Sesia Cruz, Maggie Dawson, Liana Montecinos, Christina Lombardi
Back: Kelechi Agbakwuru, Prof. Saba Ahmed, Justice Haynes, Liz Mary Mejia, Stephanie Dalecki, Carmen Diaz Jones 

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