This blog post was written by Stephen Gaines, student-attorney in the UB School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
Tonight, a young mother will collect her children, venture out the door, and walk down her street in Central America to begin a 1,000-mile walk to another continent, in search of a fresh start. As student-attorneys in the Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) at the University of Baltimore School of Law, we are the greeters at the end of that thousand-mile trek. Our work is the work of an advocate on behalf of those whose suffering, we hope, will end with a new life in the United States of America.
The IRC, through our collaboration with Centro SOL, does some of the most fulfilling work I could hope to do as a law student. Centro SOL is a program at Johns Hopkins Hospital that focuses on providing medical services and health outreach to the Latinx community in the Baltimore area. This past semester, I had the opportunity to participate in the IRC’s new legal advice and counsel clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
On a biweekly basis I traveled to the hospital and met with Centro SOL patients in between their doctor visits. Together with my clinic partner, I interviewed the patients about their immigration history and later counseled them on their options.
The individuals we encountered at the clinic endured abuse, violence, trauma, grief and hardship that would shock any listener. Some have cried telling their fears of threats and the dreadful conditions in their home country. Many have been persecuted because of their identity as a homosexual, as a political dissident, as a person living with HIV, or for being part of some afflicted social group. Often, the government either inflicts the harm or is unable or unwilling to protect the persons who are being harmed because of their identity in their particular group.
And within a year of entering the country, the immigrant asks the United States to provide haven for them. What I just described are the conditions that should qualify an individual for asylum, a very valuable form of relief that leads to many wonderful benefits for the immigrant. Chief among those benefits is legal status and a path to citizenship, where a fresh start is possible.
Over the course of the semester I came to appreciate my role in these immigrants’ journeys. As a student attorney working in the clinic, I saw that my time at the hospital served as the connection that allows the immigrant to exchange heartache for a fresh start. That connection doesn’t happen overnight, however. There is much training involved in the mechanics of finding a fresh start.
As student-attorneys, we are trained in the skill of client-centered interviewing, asking questions and listening for elements of a client’s story that will win their case. After the interview, we must research the law, apply the law, and write a memorandum that explains the law in user-friendly terms. That training is real-time, real-world training, and equips us with tools useful for practice in other areas of law.
And though these skills are valuable in any field of law, I have committed to practicing immigration law in the future. I have chosen to practice immigration law because it is an area of law that actively animates one of America’s core values: diversity. Immigration law allows me to personify the value of increasing the vibrancy of America’s cultural fabric.
Each person I interview is another addition to the chorus of this nation. And while not every client receives the benefit of obtaining legal status in America, I am encouraged that many immigration petitions are successful. And I am encouraged because I know that the mother who ventures from home thousands of miles away will be received by us, the students of the IRC, workers at Centro Sol, and the corps of attorneys committed to this cause.