Immigrant Rights’ Clinic Students Reflect on the Experience of Representing a Detained Client

We began representing T in the spring of 2018, as full-time students in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC). From the first time we spoke with her on the phone, we were awed by her thoughtfulness, warmth, and resilience during her unbelievably challenging circumstances. Both of us feel now that representing her was a uniquely rewarding experience during our three years in law school and a reminder about the impact such work can have on an individual’s life.

When we took her case, the government was detaining her in a facility hundreds of miles from her family and seeking to deport her on account of a prior criminal conviction. T was a long-time green-card holder who had lived in the United States since she was a small girl. She knew no life anywhere else. Our task was straightforward: show an Immigration Judge (IJ) that her conviction did not trigger mandatory deportation under the immigration laws, so that T could remain in her country, together with her family and children.

While communicating weekly by phone with T, we principally wrote a brief to submit to the Immigration Court, demonstrating that the crime for which T was convicted did not qualify as a mandatory deportation offense. For us, though, a highlight of the quarter came as the quarter closed: driving out to visit T at the detention facility where she was held to talk her through the legal aspects of her case, and prepare her for the many possible outcomes. It was wonderful to finally be able to meet her–the same warm, lovely, and persevering person we had come to know from our phone calls.

Our experience in the IRC representing T taught us not only about immigration law, but also about the individual impact such work can have—the power of compassionate legal work to offer humanity, support, and the possibility of vindication to a client navigating an often callous and indifferent immigration system.