Stanford Immigrant’s Rights Clinic students Matthaeus Weinhardt (JD ’16) and Lindsey Jackson (JD ’16), supervised by IRC director Jayashri Srikantiah, recently represented their client in a hearing in San Francisco Immigration Court. Below they reflect on the experience.
Our entire quarter was focused on preparing for this hearing. We interviewed our client around seven times to get the details of her story, which is truly horrific. Suffice it to say, she experienced trauma and torture that no human being should ever have to live through. Working through an interpreter, in our interviews, we effectively asked our client to relive some of the worst experiences of her life, all in the interest of advocating on her behalf. We reviewed documents from the government, researched particular aspects of immigration law and put together our client’s application for relief (and seven extra copies, as seemingly required).
Before the hearing, we mooted twice, preparing for every possible question or scenario we could think of. We also went to observe hearings held by our judge. Some of what we did may seem like over-preparation, but we felt like the stakes were extraordinarily high, given what our client had been through and what the consequences were, should we fail to secure favorable outcomes.
Disconcerting for us was the fact that on the day of our hearing, there were supposed to be about 30-40 other cases heard, largely unrepresented respondents, but by the time it was our turn, there were only around five parties present—all of whom were represented. This would seem to suggest that dozens of people were missing their hearing, which is particularly concerning since missing a court hearing practically results in automatic deportation. One thing this might indicate is just how important representation is in immigration proceedings (where there generally is no right to counsel). It’s important because immigrants without lawyers have an incredibly hard time putting together a complete, well-researched and persuasive case; but it may also be important for the court, which has an interest in individuals appearing for their court dates.
As for our hearing itself, all went smoothly and we were able to achieve the result we were looking for. The judge seemed to appreciate our preparation and especially the work of our clinic. Our client was pleased and relieved, and afterwards it was great to all get food and drinks at a nearby café and talk about things not directly related to her case. It felt very relaxed and genuine. As we sat together, we couldn’t help but appreciate the ethnic diversity of our group; we all spoke various languages and came from countries spanning three continents, yet we all currently consider the Bay Area home.