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Immigration Clinic Steps Up to Access to Justice Gap with All-Day Workshop for Pro Se Asylum-Seekers

Friday, October 12, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: UDC Law Staff
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Group photo of workshop participants

In the midst of a nationwide surge in immigration enforcement, the Baltimore Immigration Court posted a 33,384-case backlog as of late July, representing a 96% increase since January 2017. This makes the Maryland docket the fastest-growing backlog in the nation and effectively doubles the caseload of the state’s only immigration court, threatening to further erode due process protections for immigrants.

The Immigration and Human Rights Clinic stepped up to address the crisis when, on Sept. 28, the clinic held its second-ever pro se asylum filing workshop for immigrant families facing removal in Baltimore in partnership with Human Rights First. The clinic-organized event brought together 15 UDC Law student volunteers, eight of whom are currently enrolled in the clinic, for a full-day drafting session with 10 asylum-seeking families with cases pending before the court. Under the careful supervision of Clinic Instructor Saba Ahmed, LL.M. ’19, and Co-Directors Kristina Campbell and Lindsay Harris, the combined efforts of law student volunteers yielded 17 newly-minted applications for protection.

Many of the families, all of whom fled Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek protection in the U.S., had already been relegated to the Baltimore-based court’s “last chance docket” or were fast approaching the one-year filing deadline, and faced a serious danger of removal despite the underlying merits of their claims. While remaining mindful of the evolving legal framework governing asylum, students practiced indispensable skills like rapport-building, fact development, credibility assessment, and legal drafting with an eye to compelling narrative. “This required efficiency, patience, compassion, and organization, but it is giving each of these families a shot at gaining the protection they seek in the United States,” said Clinic Co-Director Lindsay Harris.

Many families presented difficult legal issues that forced students to wrestle with the changing law of asylum, particularly the narrowed grounds for asylum based on so-called “private violence.” Other situations confronted students with the all-too-common challenge faced by lawyers in the field – managing a case across diverse individual family members with distinct grounds for asylum. In one representative example, a team of students had to navigate delicate family dynamics for a family of four when it was revealed that one of the teenage sons was recruited by gangs and threatened with death while his sibling suffered persecution for his sexual orientation.

Clinic student Toyin Isijola, ’19, said the experience was a deeply rewarding one. “Coming from an immigrant family myself, I feel very fortunate to be part of that experience. Asylum seekers are like every one of us; they simply seek an environment where they can peacefully live without fear of persecution based on who they are or what they represent.”

The law school community turned out in force to support the event, with the D.C. School of Law Foundation treating the participants and families to lunch just as staff made sure participating students had the supplies they needed to accomplish the day’s work.

The filing workshop represents only the latest entry in UDC Law’s long record of innovations in clinical legal education. In a follow-up post to the Clinical Law Prof blog, Professor Harris promoted the benefits that the workshop offers clinical educators generally. “In many ways the day is a preview of what it is like to work in the faster-paced legal services setting, contrasted with many traditional law school clinic models where ‘law in slow motion’ may be the norm,” Professor Harris wrote. While the workshop serves an important educational role, it is only one part of the clinic’s work in support of the immigrant community. This semester, clinic students are already hard at work representing asylum-seekers from Honduras, Venezuela, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, as they prepare for trial.

This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Clinic Notes, the UDC Law Clinical and Experiential Program newsletter available here.


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