UNH Law Offers Immigration Law Clinic

UNH Law Offers Immigration Law Clinic

Thursday, October 6, 2011
Bookmark and Share

The University of New Hampshire School of Law announces a new clinical opportunity for students that focuses on immigration law through a unique joint venture with a statewide social service agency.

The school, in conjunction with New Hampshire Catholic Charities’ Immigration and Refugee Services division, offers up to six students each semester the opportunity to learn immigration law and procedures in a classroom setting, then apply that knowledge to real-life cases under the supervision of Catholic Charities attorneys.

The clinic gives students practical experience in interviewing clients, preparing complicated legal cases and appearing before judges. They are likely to work on asylum, family reunification, naturalization and unwarranted removal cases. Additional work may include representing immigrants who are afraid to leave violent domestic relationships for fear of being sent back to their birth country.

“There’s always been a demand for a clinic offering on the subject of immigration law,” said Professor Erin Corcoran, who heads UNH Law’s Social Justice Institute and who will teach the classroom component of the clinic. “This is a wonderful partnership that offers real benefits both to our students and to New Hampshire Catholic Charities. I don’t know of any law school that has this kind of relationship with a social service agency.”

New Hampshire Catholic Charities serves all people, regardless of faith, throughout the state. Its Immigration and Refugee Services division has three staff attorneys and two immigration specialists. The division is the only low-income immigration service provider in the state, and it currently has approximately 2,500 open cases. It is based in Nashua and active in the southern part of the state but had seen a real need for a stronger presence in Concord and points north.

The clinical partnership came about in large part because of the organization’s history of working with UNH Law interns.

“We have been very impressed with students at the school,” said Cathy Chesley, who heads Immigration and Refugee Services. “We have created a sort of interdependence, and so when we needed to move north, it made sense to work even more closely.”

Chesley and staff attorney Francis Agyare, who will direct students’ clinical work, also have another tie to the school: They are both alumni. Chesley earned her JD in 1987, and Agyare, who is originally from Ghana, earned his JD/LLM in 2003.

For one student who is participating in the clinic, the subject matter hits home. Beatrice Damas, a 3L, is herself an immigrant: She came to the United States with her mother, who is from Haiti, and her father, who is from Jamaica, when she was around 12 years old. But, she says, the subject didn’t have a real resonance with her until last summer, when she began talking to her husband, who emigrated from Ivory Coast, about his experiences coming to America.

“His story was so compelling,” she said. “He started crying as he told it to me. He came to America and had nothing – no family, no money. He had an immigration lawyer who wasn’t helpful, so even though he didn’t really speak English, he had to draft his own paperwork.”

Damas, who has a background in biochemistry and molecular biology, came to UNH Law intending to study intellectual property law, but after her experiences so far this fall working in the immigration clinic, “I’m thinking that maybe there are other paths out there for me,” she said.

The real-life work she is doing is giving Damas a different perspective on the law, too. “When you are looking at these cases on paper, it’s easy to read the facts and say, ‘tough luck.’ But once you get to meet the person, you have a really different perspective. There’s a human being behind that story, and you want to help them.”

Damas says the clinical offerings at UNH Law are invaluable. “Instead of reading case law after case law, this is a firsthand experience, “ she said. “You get to meet the client, you get to bond and have a relationship with the client, which gives you a better idea how to help that person. Clinics give you an opportunity to experience different types of law which can potentially make you wonder what career path you want to pursue.”