Through its clinics and centers, UC Hastings provides students with hands-on opportunities to gain valuable skills in the ever-evolving filed of immigration and asylum law.
UC Hastings offers several clinical opportunities in immigration law that allow students to tackle complex domestic and international issues. Both on campus and out in the community, students handle refugee cases and deferred action matters; they also travel to other continents for fact-finding missions related to human rights.
Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
At the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC), seven students a semester spend up to 20 hours a week working at local nonprofits, including the Immigration Legal Resource Center and the National Immigration Law Center, and in select private practices. Earning six credits a semester, students assist on a range of immigration cases, such as acquiring permanent residency, citizenship, and deferred actions. The organizations and law firms hosting students are selected for their devotion to teaching and mentoring. Professor Richard Boswell explains. “They’re interested in developing good, ethical practitioners in this area, where, in my opinion, clients are much more vulnerable.”
The IRC is what Boswell calls a hybrid externship model. “Students gain a real sense of what immigration law practice is like, and the clinic provides them with the fundamental skills,’ he says. Students also take a companion course focused on ethical and practical matters, including fact investigation, case planning, working with interpreters, and interviewing and counseling clients. Before taking the clinic, students must complete the upper-division course in immigration law.
Refugee and Human Rights Clinic
Though similar in mission to the IRC, the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic is run more like a teaching hospital, says Professor Karen Musalo. Each semester, eight students represent individuals who have fled persecution and are seeking asylum in the United States or they engage in cutting-edge human rights projects. The refugee cases, referred by local nonprofits, are those with compelling and complex issues. Musalo and her clinical teaching fellow, Christine Lin, search for cases where the resources the clinic offers can make the difference in outcome.
Working as counsel and attending a companion seminar, students acquire a range of skills, such as learning to gather facts using interviewing techniques, and frequently, interpreters. They also research a country’s conditions and develop legal theories regarding eligibility for relief, draft requests for protection and legal briefs, and prepare the client for an asylum interview.
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Related to the Refugee and Humans Rights Clinic is the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), which was founded and is directed by Musalo. The nation’s leading organization supporting women asylum seekers fleeing gender-related violence, CGRS has a long and successful track record of breaking new ground in women’s and refugees’ rights. In addition to helping shape gender asylum law through appellate advocacy, CGRS serves as an expert consultant to attorneys, participates in trainings and conferences, and publishes studies and reports that influence policymakers.
Some students find that the exposure they gain to these complicated issues while still in law school directly informs the career paths they choose. Such is the case with Blaine Bookey ’09, who joined CGRS as a staff attorney in 2011. Bookey had worked at the clinic as a law student, and the experience fueled her desire to become a social justice lawyer. At CGRS, Bookey handles appellate litigation and works on human rights projects, such as investigating and documenting human rights conditions for women, children and LGBT individuals. One of Bookey’s most successful results centered on a case involving an Albanian woman targeted by the mafia. The Second Circuit published an opinion upholding the immigration agency’s denial of asylum. Following CGRS’s submission of an amicus brief in support of rehearing, the Second Circuit withdrew its published opinion.
November’s election made clear that immigration issues are of great importance across the country, Musalo says. “We live in a transnational world. Lawyers have a big role to play in policy and in the individual representation of those seeking remedies and relief. We’re training students to engage in work that’s really important.”
Case Study: Fact-Finding in El Salvador
For the human rights component of the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, Director Karen Musalo seeks out timely and important projects that will serve as “a challenging pedagogical experience for students.” To that end, last fall, Musalo; staff attorney Blaine Bookey ’09; and two students, Elva Linares ’14 and Stewart Pollock ’14, traveled to El Salvador to evaluate the implementation of two laws related to gender equality and violence against women.
Before they left, Linares and Pollock did extensive research on El Salvador’s history, politics, and legal system. They then spent a week there interviewing experts—including members of El Salvador’s Parliament and the judiciary, activists, and women in the community—as to their evaluation of the implementation of the laws.
Preliminarily, the students learned that Salvadorans view the laws as positive developments, though there was recognition that compromises were necessary to obtain sufficient support for their passage. “It required negotiation to reach a consensus,” Musalo says, “but it didn’t result in polarization. That’s a great step forward.”
Students also discovered that the effective implementation of laws is a matter of not only political will, but also resources. Experts remarked that the many requirements of the laws could not be carried out unless the Parliament allocated a sufficient budget. “Now, quite a bit of the advocacy is about allocation of funds,” Musalo explains.
Learning that the answer is not a simple case of “judges must apply the laws,” the students gained “a nuanced and sophisticated understanding about how laws are made and implemented,” Musalo says.
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