After some well-deserved rest, relaxation, and time with family and friends, nine Miami Law students spent four days over winter break assisting asylum seekers through Catholic Legal Services’ Asylum Clinic. The alternative break was developed by CLS in collaboration with the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center. In early January, the nine students, eight 1Ls (two of whom included Miami Scholars Hannah Gordon and Maddie Seales) and one 3L, who had varying experience and exposure to immigration previously, all had the opportunity to build practical skills and knowledge about a complex area of the law while making a substantial impact.
Back Row: Benjamin Longnecker, Robert Klasfeld, Alejandra Chinea Vicente, Stephanie Moran; Front Row: Arcelia Rodriguez, Maddie Seales, Hannah Gordon, Aileen Graffe-McDonley, Anne Marie McLaughlin
"I chose to participate in the Asylum Clinic so I could gain exposure to non-profit legal work and make productive use of my winter break. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with asylum seekers and make a positive impact on their future,” said 1L Robert Klasfield.
The Asylum Clinic began by watching the law in action as the participating students observed immigration court and met with an immigration judge. CLS conducted an asylum training to give the students the foundational knowledge they needed to assist pro se asylum seekers, under the supervision of CLS attorneys. Students then met with and interviewed pro se asylum seekers and helped them draft their petitions.
“For most of the four days we helped asylum seekers complete their applications. The stories that these people had were so heart breaking, it made me realize how truly lucky we are for what we have in the United States,” said 1L Stephanie Moran. “The Asylum Clinic made me even more interested in immigration law and I am very excited to see what the semester holds in my immigration law elective.”
In addition to assisting with pro se asylum applications, 1L Benjamin Longnecker said that he “also got the opportunity to research and draft a motion to change venue for one of the immigration attorneys.”
Students finished the week by assisting with CLS’ clinic for individuals who had previously filed for asylum pro se and needed additional assistance with next steps in the process.
“Thanks to the students’ efforts, more than a dozen unrepresented adults and children facing deportation were able to timely file an application for asylum, allowing them the opportunity to stay in the United States to fight their case,” said CLS Supervising Attorney and former HOPE Fellow, Gracia Cuzzi, J.D. ’12. “Our office simply cannot keep up with the demand for assistance and so their contribution was invaluable.”
Not only did the experience enable law students to make a difference in the lives of individuals seeking asylum, but it also enhanced their professional development. “Volunteering with the Asylum Clinic strengthened my commitment to pro bono legal work now, and in the future, because I saw the direct impact we were having on people’s lives,” said 1L Anne Marie McLaughlin.
Fall, Winter, and Spring breaks are a great time to volunteer with agencies in the community, near and far. If you would like to get involved and volunteer over a break, contact the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.