8-16-2011By Sara Faust
Program Associate, Refugee Protection Program
As future lawyers across the country gear up for their next year of law school, Human Rights First would like to highlight the tremendous work of our law school clinic partners. In addition to working with pro bono attorneys at law firms in the New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC areas, Human Rights First’s asylum legal representation program regularly assigns asylum cases to law schools operating immigration and human rights-focused clinics. These clinics supplement legal seminars with direct-service clinical work. Students gain legal experience and first-hand insight into the U.S. asylum system by working directly with clients. Through this process, they are often inspired to pursue careers with legal service or human rights organizations after law school.
The Safe Harbor Clinic at Brooklyn Law School is one of our most noteworthy partner clinics. Overseen by law professors Dan Smulian and Stacy Caplow, the Safe Harbor clinic has obtained asylum for over 50 refugees referred by Human Rights First’s Asylum Legal Representation Program since 1997. After helping their clients gain asylum, the students file petitions to ensure asylees are reunited with their families, obtain permanent residency and successfully acquire U.S. citizenship. The comprehensive commitment to follow each asylum client throughout the naturalization process not only permits participating students to be exposed to a variety of immigration filing procedures beyond asylum, but also ensures each client taken on by the Safe Harbor program remains connected to the clinic for years after winning asylum.
Most recently, the Safe Harbor clinic won asylum for Amina (name has been changed to conceal identity), a young woman from the Middle East who arrived in the United States after fleeing a forced marriage and the threat of an honor killing. Professor Caplow supervised a team of female law students to prepare Amina’s case before the Department of Homeland Security’s Asylum Office. “They were not only my lawyers and representatives during this lengthy process, but more like a family,” said Amina after winning asylum in July 2011. “They took time to understand every aspect of my case…. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Law students Jane Li, Laura Zaccone, and Melissa Livingston conducted in-depth client interviews and legal, country and culture-specific research to prepare Amina’s case. For Jane Li, who will begin her third year of law school in September 2011, this was the first time she had worked directly with a client, and she found the experience to be rewarding on both a personal level and a professional level. The sessions Jane spent in client meetings helped her “learn how to interact and be supportive of someone who had experienced trauma.” The experience also helped reinforce Jane’s interest in pursuing a career in international human rights law after law school.
For Jane, working on Amina’s case highlighted the “insurmountable barriers for [asylum seekers] without legal representation.” Researching, gathering information, and presenting an effective asylum case is a daunting process which many unrepresented asylum seekers attempt to do on their own. “I don’t feel like the average asylum applicant can get asylum without legal professionals,” said Jane.
Law school clinics are important resources for our clients, and have helped sustain our legal representation program for three decades. In addition to Brooklyn Law School, Human Rights First would like to thank the following law schools, whose students and professors have recently helped refugees gain asylum and reunite with their families here in the United States.
American University: Washington College of Law International Human Rights Clinic
Cardozo Law School: International Human Rights Clinic
City University of New York School of Law: Immigrant & Refugee Rights: Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic
Columbia University: Davis Polk Asylum Workshop
Fordham University School of Law Immigrant Rights and Access to Justice Clinic
Georgetown University Law Center: Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) Asylum Clinic
University of Baltimore School of Law Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law Immigration & Human Rights Clinic