Student Voices: A Thursday at Pinal County Jail

Joel Edman writes about his work in Arizona jails and detention centers (image credit: Paige Austin)

Today’s dispatch comes from Joel Edman, a second-year student at Harvard Law School. Joel spent his winter term at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona for an Independent Clinical. He is also a member of the student practice organizations Tenant Advocacy Project and Harvard Immigration Project, and is currently participating in the Child Advocacy Clinic for the spring term.

I saw the potential of the Florence Project‘s work one afternoon toward the end of J-term. It was Thursday, when the “Florence team” (as opposed to the “Eloy team”) goes to the Pinal County Jail for a know-your-rights presentation, a bond workshop, and one-on-one intakes. The real lesson – for me at least – from the day had nothing to do with the law. Instead, it was the presentation style of the legal assistant and soon-to-be law student who conducted the bond workshop that I will never forget:

The word “empower” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s the only way I can describe what she passionately tried to accomplish with those men that afternoon. We stand in a circle, fellow HLS student Paige Austin and I, plus about a dozen detainees in jumpsuits. The room is just starting to get cold – I learned quickly that jailhouse concrete, bricks, and restricted sunlight can make even the Arizona desert chilly. “Usted es su propio abogado” sets the tone for the talk. The legal assistant is upfront about the harsh reality facing many of these men, but at the same time offers encouragement. She is meticulous, not just covering legal rules and procedures, but also the practicalities of getting documents from family, how to address a letter to a judge, that those letters should be in English, how to use the internal mail system at the jail, etc. She answers dozens of questions, patiently and thoroughly. In short, if you manage to walk away from her presentation not knowing exactly how to maximize your chances of getting bond, you just weren’t paying attention. I left thinking, “now that’s how you lawyer to a detained population.” And it’s a good thing too, because for that vast majority of the people the Florence Project meets, those precious few minutes will be their only interaction with an attorney.

There are thousands of detainees housed in the rural towns of Florence and Eloy, Arizona, and only a handful of attorneys at the Florence Project. Yet, the Project has as its goal to provide quality legal information to every detainee, as well as more targeted services for a few who might be helped to get some form of relief. Most days of the week, attorneys from the Project go to the detention centers to give know-your-rights presentations to groups of detainees, ranging from about 20 to 60 people. They are scheduled to happen about a week before the detainees’ initial appearance before a judge and are designed to give the detainees a sense of what to expect. The presentations – entirely in Spanish – include a brief overview of potential forms of relief, so that the attorneys can identify detainees who might be eligible.

After the presentation, or during it if there are extra attorneys on hand, the attorneys do one-on-one intakes with anyone who 1) was previously identified as potentially being eligible for relief, 2) does not speak Spanish, or 3) simply wants to speak to an attorney. After watching a presentation on my second day at the Project and observing a few intakes, I began doing intakes myself. At first, I was just gathering relevant facts so that one of the attorneys could dispense legal advice, but by the end of the first week, I had a pretty good sense of what to say in most cases. Besides being an emotionally straining process, and a healthy test of my (somewhat rusty) Spanish, intakes were a great crash course in immigration law.

There is much more to tell, but I’ll end by saying that I was one hundred percent satisfied with my experience at the Florence Project. I could not imagine a better way to have spent those three weeks!

Recent “Student Voices”
Update from Florence…, Arizona
Dispatch from Tel Aviv

Student Voices: Update from Florence…, Arizona

HLS clinical student Paige Austin writes: The US-Mexico border is about 2.5 hours south of Florence. Some of the people detained in Florence are asylum seekers who presented themselves to US authorities at the border.

Welcome back to “Student Voices”, a new series featuring the stories of clinical students at Harvard Law School. Today’s dispatch comes from Paige Austin, a joint-degree student at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School. She spent her winter term at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona for an Independent Clinical.

Spending January term at the Florence Project in Arizona gave me a fascinating opportunity to learn a very painful lesson: however bad you think the US immigration system is, it is in fact much worse.

The Florence Project works in five adult detention centers that house immigration detainees in Arizona (if immigration were not technically a civil area of law, these facilities might more aptly be called “jails”). Over half of the men and women detained in these Arizona facilities have been transferred from California, but there are also a large number who hail from nearby Phoenix, the city that Department Of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division recently called home to “the most egregious racial profiling in the United States“.

Because there is no right to a government-funded attorney in immigration proceedings, the vast majority of detainees will appear pro se (i.e. without a lawyer) in immigration court. The attorneys at the Florence Project try to help them do that by giving weekly “legal orientation” presentations at each facility, conducted in Spanish, and then meeting one-on-one with anyone who wants legal advice on his or her case. The detainees mostly fall into two categories: there are legal permanent residents who have been placed in deportation proceedings because of criminal conviction/s, and there are undocumented people who entered the US without inspection. Within a few days of arriving, I felt confident that I could handle legal intakes with people in the latter category because their options are so straightforward. Simply put, they almost always have none.

To take an example: one of the first detainees I met was a woman in her mid-20s who had lived in the US since age three. She had three US-citizen children; no criminal convictions; and no memory of Mexico. All in all, she is exactly the type of person I had thought US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ceased trying to deport under the Obama administration. But instead, this woman had been picked up for an outstanding traffic ticket and placed in immigration detention, where she has so far spent three months.

What are her options? She is not eligible for cancellation of removal, because for undocumented people that requires ten years of continuous presence in the US and she was already sent to Mexico by immigration authorities once five years ago (she returned to Arizona in less than three days). Regardless, the other requirements for cancellation are so onerous that the Florence Project sees very few applications granted. The chances of a Mexican national receiving asylum before an Arizona immigration judge are slim to none, though there have apparently been successful applications on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This woman had suffered significant domestic abuse at the hands of her children’s US-citizen father — but because they were not married, she is not eligible for VAWA (a form of cancellation of removal created by the Violence Against Women Act of 2000). She had reported instances of domestic violence to the police, but in order to apply for a U-visa for victims of crime she would need the police or District Attorney office to certify her application — a process that is hard enough in immigrant-friendly parts of the country, and impossible in regions where these entities have little love for immigrants. Regardless, in one of the most surprising lessons I learned at the Florence Project, immigration judges can order a person deported even if they have a U-visa application pending at ICE’s national service center in Vermont (a process that can routinely take a year).

In short, there was almost nothing she could do. And hers was one of the most compelling cases that I worked on. For hundreds of other people with whom the Florence Project meets each week, the lack of options is even more galling.

Because of this, when my fellow intern Joel Edman and I were not visiting detention facilities, we spent most of our time in the office working on Ninth Circuit briefs on behalf of legal permanent residents facing deportation due to criminal convictions. In those cases, the government bears the burden of proving the person deportable by clear and convicting evidence — so there is at least a fighting chance against deportation. Among legal permanent residents, one Florence Project attorney estimated about half of people may ultimately retain their right to stay in the US. But among undocumented detainees, an estimate of three percent would be generous. And for the rest: they leave in their wake children, family, jobs, homes, a few overworked lawyers, and a growing archipelago of privately-run immigration “detention centers” that will happily fill the beds again soon.

The Eloy Detention Center is one of the facilities where Florence Project attorneys conduct a legal orientation program. Eloy is run by a private company, Corrections Corps of America, and houses around 1500 immigrants.

Student Voices: Dispatch from Tel Aviv

Nana Boakye (JD ’13), Lillian Langford (JD ’13), and Elian Maritz (JD ’13) outside Bethlehem

Welcome to the first installment of “Student Voices”, a new series that features the stories of clinical students at Harvard Law School. Today’s dispatch comes from Elian Maritz, a second-year student who is studying international migration and development. She has participated in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and spent her winter term studying and working at Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic for an Independent Clinical.

One of the things we’ve learned in our time in Tel Aviv is that there is no “weather conversation” here; no matter if you’re talking to a friend at a bar or your taxi driver, politics are everywhere and everyone seems to have a strong opinion. As my fellow clinical student Nana observed, “everything is a hot-button issue.” Since arriving, we have been privy to debates about the role of women in Orthodox Israeli society, the laws on residence rights of Palestinians who marry Israelis, debates on the role of the Supreme Court, the high cost of living for young Israelis – just to name a few.

Within this context, we’ve managed to arrive during a particularly contentious moment in the politics of asylum law in Israel, as the country just passed a strict new law, authorizing the detention of undocumented immigrants for up to three years. Refugees and the debate over how they should be treated are currently at the forefront of Israeli politics, and we are right at the center of this national debate. Nana and I are at the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic and Lillian is at Ramat Gan Academic Center of Law and Business Clinic, but as we’ve learned, the community of practitioners here is extremely tight-knit and our supervisors often work in concert, both on specific cases and broader policy issues, including bringing a legal challenge to the recent legislation.

Asylum is a relatively new field of law in Israel, as it is only within the past ten years or so that non-Jewish refugees have begun to seek asylum here. The refugee population primarily comes from Africa, with the majority being from Sudan and Eritrea. What this means is that Israeli courts often look abroad to places like the U.S. for guidance on how to interpret the Refugee Convention. Because of this, our knowledge of asylum law from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic is actually very relevant and useful, despite the fact that we worked a completely different country.

Though our primary work is focused on helping with this type of research for asylum petitions, we’ve also had the opportunity to do much more. One recent highlight was a trip to meet with Justice Salim Joubran on the Supreme Court of Israel. Justice Joubran is the only Arab Justice on the Court, and was very gracious to take the time to sit down and talk to us. He spoke with us about his vision of the relationship between the Court and Israeli society (yet another “hot-button issue”). One thing I was particularly struck by on our tour of the Court was how the shelves lining the Supreme Court library were filled with hundreds of U.S. case law reporters (a type of case publication), a reminder of how influential U.S. jurisprudence is across the world.

And despite attempting to quickly educate ourselves about all these “hot-button issues,” we are still managing to find time to enjoy Tel Aviv and the rest of the region (see picture above for proof). All in all, it’s been an amazing experience and a wonderful complement to our work this past fall at Harvard. We will be very sad to leave!

Mark Your Calendar: Ethics Event and Reception for Clinical and SPO Students

Ethics Event and Reception for Clinical and SPO Students
Thu, Jan 26 from 7-9pm
Milstein East ABC, 2nd Floor, Wasserstein

**This event is mandatory for all 1L (and 1st semester) students in SPOs and all students starting their first clinic in either Winter or Spring 2012. All other clinical and SPO students are encouraged to attend.**

Get to know your fellow clinical and SPO students, meet clinical professors in a range of fields, and learn more about confidentiality, diligence, and conflict of interest during this presentation and reception hosted by the Clinical Programs at Harvard Law School.

Presenters include Judge Nancy Gertner, Esme Caramello (Harvard Legal Aid Bureau), Michael Gregory (Education Law Clinic of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative), and Julie McCormack (WilmerHale Legal Services Center).

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Deadlines: Spring Clinicals

Don’t forget! There are two important deadlines this Fri, Jan 13:

1. Jan 13 is the final day to apply for a spring independent clinical or continuing clinical.

2. Jan 13 is the ADD/DROP deadline for spring clinicals. Clinicals dropped after this date receive a Withdrawal transcript notation.

Check out the clinical calendar for additional clinical dates and the academic calendar for general HLS dates and deadlines.

If you have any questions, please stop by or call our office. We’re here to help!

6 Everett Street, Suite 3085
Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA 02138

Phone: 617-495-5202
Fax: 617-496-2636
Email:  clinical at law.harvard.edu

Deadline: Apply for Pro Bono Spring Break Trips by Jan 24

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers students the opportunity to conduct pro bono work during spring break through organized group trips. This year, trips run between March 10-18, 2012.

Complete details can be found on the HLS website but this year’s opportunities include work with AIDS Gulf Coast Disaster Network (New Orleans, LA), Delta Fresh Foods Initiative (Clarksdale, MS), and Combating Anti-Immigration Legislation (Alabama).

To apply, submit the completed application and a resume to Lee Branson (6 Everett Street, Suite 3085 /  lbranson at law.harvard.edu) by Tue, Jan 24, 2012.

Decisions will be announced by Mon, Jan 30 and selected students must commit by making airfare reservations by Mon, Feb 6.

Spring Break 2011 visit to the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale, MS after a legal training for artists and musicians. HLS and Ole Miss law students are pictured with Delta Fellow Alexis Chernak and Ole Miss Professor Cam Abel.

Event: Akin Gump Pro Bono Scholars Info Session

Wed, Jan 25, 2012
12-1pm
Milstein West A (WCC 2019)
Lunch provided

Learn about an exciting summer fellowship program for top law students interested in making pro bono an integral part of their law firm careers from Steven Schulman, the Akin Gump Pro Bono Partner, and student participants.

Akin Gump will fund students to split their 1L summer with a public interest organization and with Akin Gump, working only on pro bono matters. The student is expected to participate in the firm’s summer associate program during the second summer, which will include pro bono opportunities.

For more information and an application visit akingump.com or download a PDF about the program.

Update: New Home at 6 Everett Street

OCP has moved!

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs has moved! Please visit us in our new location at 6 Everett Street, Suite 3085.

A number of other clinics and student practice organizations have moved as well, including Child Advocacy Program (CAP), Criminal Justice Institute, Education Law Clinic/Trauma Learning Policy Initiative, Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic (ELPC), Gender Violence Clinic, Harvard Defenders, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, International Human Rights Clinic, Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP), and Transactional Law Clinics. Additionally, Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic recently moved to Austin Hall.

For a complete list of offices in the new building, please visit the HLS website. See you soon!