Immigration Rights Project Brings Value to Both Students and Clients

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In the six years since students began representing clients in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, more than 90 clients have been granted some form of legal immigration status.

Part of preparing law students for the real world is giving them real world experience.

The Immigration Rights Project is a collaboration between the TU College of Law and the Immigration Rights Center. The project is a one-semester, four-credit clinical program in which law students represent non-citizens in immigration matters. Students of the Immigration Rights Project have the unique opportunity to not only get real world experience but to make a truly significant impact on people’s lives. In the six years since students began representing clients in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, more than 90 clients have been granted some form of legal immigration status.

In three different cases, TU Law students were able to get their clients U Visas, a special visa for victims of violent crime who provide assistance to law enforcement officials in the investigation and prosecution process.

Margaret Cook (L ’12) and Gene Thompson (L ’12) represented a client who had been the victim of horrific abuse ever since she arrived in the United States from her native Mexico as a little girl. Through their tireless efforts, including gathering police reports, court records, witness statements and working with a psychological expert to detail the harm suffered by the client, Cook and Thompson were able to secure a U-visa for their client.

Emilie Blanchard (L ’12) represented a woman from Mexico whose four-year-old daughter had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a neighbor. In addition to her work with local law enforcement, psychological experts and social service agencies, Emilie prepared a video-taped interview with the client’s daughter describing her life in the United States and her attachment to her mother. Emilie’s client will be able to remain in the United States and care for her daughter.

Amanda Cornell (L ’12) and Tami Knorr (L ’11) represented clients who had been victims of a home invasion robbery at gunpoint. Amanda and Tami prepared and filed petitions for each family member, and worked with local law enforcement agencies to educate them about the U-visa program.

A client represented by Hans Lehr (L ’11), Amy Gioletti (L ’11) and Lenora Gulley (L ’10) was recently granted permanent citizen status. The client, a native of Mexico, had come forward after more than a dozen years of abuse from her U.S. citizen husband. The three students filed for relief for their client under the Violence Against Women Act and prepared the client for her interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in Oklahoma City.

In two instances, students of the Immigration Rights Project were able to work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to secure an exercise of prosecutorial discretion for their clients.

In tough cases, TU Law students persevere. Mike Mathis (L ’12) and Ravi Savitala (L ’11) followed up with phone calls and additional written submissions after their initial petition failed to yield the desired result. In October, they learned that ICE agreed to close the proceedings against their client, a mother of three kids, two of whom suffer from permanent disabilities.

Spencer Pittman (L ’13) and Ken Martin (L ’13) worked with a young man from Mexico who had grown up in Oklahoma and excelled academically at every level. The students prepared an extensive written petition detailing the clients qualifications and achievements, and in early march, the ICE agreed to join the students in a motion to the court to administratively close the client’s case; a motion which the court later granted.

Given these examples, and many more during the projects history, it’s clear the Immigration Rights Project is an extremely valuable source of experience for TU College of Law students, and is an even more valuable service to those clients who might otherwise be without representation.

Shari Erwin