Asylum and Immigration Project
Testimonials

Immigration Trip
BC Law School
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© 2005
BC Law School

Participant Testimonials

Nhu Vu, February 2005
Reflections on the trip to Brownsville, Texas

I had the opportunity to work with 5 other BC Law students in South Texas over spring break. Unlike some of the other designated spots, we were located in Brownsville, close to the US-Mexico border. I think this gave us an experience that was unique in that we were able to feel how much the issues of immigration law came to life.

Having been a part of a family that immigrated to the United States, I found the experience of working on a case for people who had gone through similar obstacles extraordinarily moving. I worked with another student, on a case trying to classify domestic violence as a means for asylum in the United States under the division of 'social group' or 'political opinion' under asylum provisions. We learned a lot about the issues that immigrants face trying to enter the United States, as well as the issues that the US faces in trying to regulate the inflow.

I am very thankful for BC for putting this trip together for us, because the trip brought to life several of the legal processes that we had only learned about in our first semester, but had not lived or experienced. The trials and hearings that we attended in court at the detention center, seeing clients at a detention center, the experience of reading and writing memos and declarations for our clients, actually working to represent somebody --- these were all experiences that no classroom could have really prepared us for.

Not only did the trip bring to life several of the legal issues that we thought about in class, it provided a remarkable bonding experience. I found myself thinking several times, "this is what law school is really about, or what it should be about," or "this is why we came to law school." I couldn't have asked for better colleagues - or better yet, friends, to have gone on the trip with. Moreover, Amy Wax, former BC alumna, was a spectacular supervisor. Thank you to Jill, Scarlett, Matt, and Prof. Kanstroom, and BC Law for putting this trip together.

Kate Halloran , February 2005
Immigration Service Trip Reflection - Miami, FL

The clichéd romance of the moment is not lost on me. I am sitting on a lounge chair on the beach watching the full moon rise over the Atlantic Ocean. But it is the events of the day and not the idyllic setting that are occupying my thoughts. This morning I watched as a Miami Immigration Judge ordered two teenaged Cuban boys to be deported while their mother sobbed quietly at their side. The lump in my throat grew as my supervisor from Catholic Charities Legal Services leaned over to me and whispered about the mistakes the boys' lawyer had made. Even as he talked, he scribbled his cell phone number on his card to hand to the mother on her way out. There is always the appeals process.

I saw a lot of bad lawyering today. But there were a few bright spots. It refreshed my will to follow through with this endeavor of law school, because good lawyers really can do good. It is that kind of idealism that falls by the wayside when exams are pending, and it seems like there will be no end to the stress and studying. So once in awhile, when we get to poke our heads up from the books, and take a look around at the world, it's a pleasant surprise to find that some of this knowledge we are busy acquiring is useful.

The moon is high now, and it is time to go to sleep. First thing tomorrow morning we are accompanying our supervisor as he argues for the cancellation of removal of a British man who has lived here in Florida for ten years and coaches his sons' soccer team. Luckily, he has a good lawyer.

Ellen Holloway , February 2005
Harlingen, Texas

I spent winter recess in Harlingen, Texas working for ProBAR, a non-profit specializing in immigration law. Specifically I worked on two cases, one seeking asylum and the other seeking relief under the Convention Against Torture. This experience was brief, but intense, and it contributed immensely to my personal growth. It allowed me to use the skills I acquired during the client counseling competition at BC and during ILPR to actually interview a live client and in Spanish. My interaction with my client was humbling and fulfilling. I listened to her tell her tragic story and my presence communicated to her that she was not alone, that despite her inability to speak English, she would have a voice and a legal advocate.

Joseph Palazzo , February 2005
Miami, FL


Day one of the immigration service trip began with an assignment. My knowledge of immigration law was close to zero and my main motivation for being on the trip was to work alongside an actual attorney for the first time. My parents both immigrated to the US in the 1960's and my father worked with immigrant children for most of my life. I considered myself knowledgeable about the needs of the poor immigrant community, but my short visit to Miami abruptly demonstrated my ignorance.

My first assignment was to research country conditions in Lithuania for ethnic Russians. A pair of fifteen year old siblings, who had been living in foster care for over eight years, had been ordered deported by the Department of Homeland Security. My employer for the week, the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center (FIAC), had taken up their case and was fighting their Order of Removal. The two children had fled the former Soviet state when their business-owning parents had been terrorized by organized crime. The only family that the children knew of in Lithuania was an uncle that they had never met. The attorney from FIAC explained that she was in the process of applying the children for political asylum and that their hearing was scheduled for that Friday. My job was to gather as much information on the treatment of ethnic Russians and organized crime in Lithuania as possible. Our goal was to convince the administrative judge that the children would be persecuted upon their arrival back in Lithuania, most likely by the same criminals who had violently harassed their family years back.

Throughout the week, my attorney had me work on several other cases. I was sent to the Federal detention facility outside of the city to interview two prisoners. I was in court to observe hearings and administrative proceedings. I was able to see how Cuban immigrants who enter the country illegally are treated differently from their Haitian and Central American counterparts. In the FIAC offices, I helped draft motions and affidavits pertaining to at least four different clients. The staff attorneys that I worked with treated me with respect and challenged me to contribute to their cases.

But my experience Friday afternoon at the administrative courthouse in downtown Miami is what I will carry with me for many years to come. I entered the courtroom confident in all the research that I had done. The pages of documents that I had gathered and entered into the record filled three file folders. My research included United Nations studies, testimony from the State Department, and affidavits from professors and experts around the country.

Approximately two minutes into the hearing, however, all my research was rendered irrelevant. The judge interrupted my attorney's opening statement to inform her that it sounded like the children's family was the victim of extortion by the local mafia. Extortion, the judge continued, is not covered by the laws of the US as grounds for asylum. I looked at the attorney I had been working for all week. Surely, I thought, this observation by the judge had been expected. Surely our entire hope for asylum was not pinned to this legal argument.

The last thing I will ever remember from my experience in Miami are the tears of the two children as the judge announced his decision to reject their plea for asylum and to allow their removal from the US. I had assumed that the attorney I had been working for was an expert in her field. I had assumed that she was battle-tested and talented simply because she had good intentions. But my frustrating experience in court showed me otherwise. It illustrated to me that the needs of the poor, in this case the immigrant community, go far beyond money or language. The quality of legal counsel, even when secured free of charge, is yet another woeful disadvantage that they must endure. It now even clearer to me how valuable my legal education is and the power I will someday wield with it.

Joseph Jordan, February 2005
Immigration Trip - ProBAR: Harlingen, TX Reflection

Each new lawyer fears that first client interview. The pressure certainly mounts when the client enters wearing an orange jump suit emblazoned with PIPC-short for Port Isabel Processing Center. The barbed wire fences were easy reminders as we drove in that our clients weren't on vacation. That is one of the things you realize immediately: these aren't people with the due process rights we enjoy. They have taken a risk by coming to the U.S., and these are the consequences.

My client's name was Oscar. Only a year older than me, I could tell he immediately looked to me for confidence. As I look back, I can barely imagine the feeling of powerlessness the detainees must go through. They are trapped behind the walls 24 hours a day, most are without family, and an even greater majority speaks only Spanish. I sat through a morning of Immigration Court proceedings, and I saw that these people are in fact treated humanely and often quite fairly. If they are here illegally, the U.S. Government sends them back. The proceedings assume a more complex stature when the detainees seek asylum or other protection.

Oscar had pepper sprayed a drug lord at a Salvadoran nightclub while working as a security guard. The drug lord was pummeling another man in the head with an empty glass bottle. Oscar's boss had given him the pepper spray, and he reacted to the situation just as he was instructed. Unfortunately, he sprayed the wrong person. A few days after the fight, men returned to the club looking for the security guard who had used the spray. Then the body of the other man in the fight was found with a bullet hole in the back of the head. Oscar left before his identity could be revealed.

I sat across from Oscar and felt an immediate sense of responsibility. I slowly realized that this man depended on me. I began to think: What do I know? Does he know about my grades last semester? Who am I to provide legal advice? There was one problem, however: I was sitting in the room with my client and I needed to come up with something. Anything. During the car ride to the detention center, our adviser had told us that in these first interviews we should act like journalists-gather the Who? What? When? And why? So I began to ask questions about his story.

As a frame of reference, we arrived in Texas on Saturday, went to the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, and it was now Monday afternoon. I had received a little less than one hour of introduction from ProBAR director Meredith Linsky and then read for another hour trying to decipher when relief is granted under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Of course, the first question Oscar asked pertained not to the trial on Monday-the one I was preparing for-but to his future proceedings. He wanted to know what was next. I was rendered unprepared immediately.

It is a lonely feeling to be sitting without answers in front of a man in an orange jumpsuit. Fortunately for me, we were accompanied by experienced attorneys and answers were footsteps away. The interview continued pleasantly, and I could sense Oscar becoming more comfortable. He, like so many others, was a victim of circumstances. How did he know he was spraying a drug lord? Wasn't he doing his job?

Now, I was not totally unprepared. I had composed some questions meant to gather the essential information I would need to begin work on his application and a brief to support that application. I knew I didn't want to get too involved on this first of two visits because I felt building a relationship was most important. However, I knew we would have to discuss the major obstacle standing in the way of his application: a prior conviction.

In most immigration proceedings the normal rules of evidence do not apply: prior convictions are relevant no matter the circumstances. The judge considers past convictions to determine whether the applicant poses a threat to society. If so, the U.S. does not automatically deport the applicant, but they can detain him indefinitely. Oscar had been deported from the U.S. in 2000 after spending 45 days in a California jail. If Oscar is deemed a threat to society but granted protection, he has to choose between deportation back to El Salvador-where he fears being killed-or remaining in detention.

Oscar chose not to discuss his conviction. I refrained from prying too deep, but I advised him that even if I didn't address the facts of his prior conviction in the brief, the judge would ask him what happened at the hearing. He was convicted five years ago during a time he defined as his reckless youth. He claimed he had matured since then. Too bad I wasn't making the determination, because I was sold. I simply told him that if we did not want to tell me, he should get his story straight because to contradict himself in front of the judge would be fatal.

Soon I had to face what actually became the hardest portion of the interview: the goodbye. Every client interview ends with some sort of forecast. It could be a future meeting time or small assignments for both parties. And then there's the, "Everything will work out," line. Did I really know? I couldn't say things would be fine. I didn't know the law or the processes. Even if I knew the law, what would that mean? Was his a "particularly serious crime" as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act? More importantly, would the judge see it as "particularly serious"? Was there "government acquiescence"? I know the man was a drug lord, but can I prove government involvement? Instead, I chose to tell my client the truth: that I would get to work. And I did.

I worked all week for this man and only wished I had three more. It's fascinating how involved I became in Oscar's story. I am plagued by writer's block (or lack of motivation) when writing for the "14th Circuit" of Grimes, but I had no trouble finding motivation for this brief. In fact, I found myself sweating while poring over cases. It truly was an adrenaline rush.

Darcy E.L. Wiecks, February 2005
Los Angeles, CA

The five days I spent working at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) in Los Angeles afforded me an amazing first-hand experience with immigration law. Not only did I emerge with a better understanding of the intricacies of immigration law, but I also witnessed they ways in which laws affect actual people. CLINIC opened my eyes to the necessity of assisting everyone so that access to the legal system is available to all people, particularly those convicted of a crime, and the importance of attempting to provide an understanding of the legal system to people who might otherwise have no clear conception of their rights.

The week began with a visit to a local detention center where I assisted with the interviewing of a detainee. His story was heart-wrenching and I felt like this experience set the tone for the entire week - our work was intense and interviewing an actual detainee and meeting several others made the work we did very personal. For the remainder of the week, I worked with a fellow student to write a motion to reopen and a supporting memorandum regarding the applicability of § 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to the case of a former detainee seeking to apply the waiver under § 212(c) to his particular situation. We researched the legal intricacies of the § 212(c) waiver and the evolution of the case law on the subject, specifically searching for a loophole that would permit the client to use the date of his crime as the qualifying date under § 212(c) as opposed to the usual standard of using the date the plea was entered. Interestingly, our research also had a personal element as the client appeared on local public radio with one of the attorneys from CLINIC while we were in Los Angeles; thus, we had the opportunity to hear him speak directly about immigrating to the United States and about how he has turned his life around since his conviction.

At the end of the week, my impression of the CLINIC and of my experience was that working in immigration law is extremely difficult. Representing and assisting people whose very way-of-life has been completely altered adds an element of importance to one's daily work. In cases involving detainees and people who may be deported, the case does not involve some monetary punishment, but instead a complete upheaval of one's world. Through conversations with the lawyers employed by CLINIC, the detainees I met, and the cases I read throughout the week, I began to appreciate the nuances of immigration law. Furthermore, for the first time I recognized the critical need for attorneys who are willing to represent people who may have committed an act that makes representing them difficult based on your personal beliefs.

Stacey Doynow , February 2005
Re: Immigration Trip to DC

I spent a week in DC at CAIR, Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition. The organization focuses on detention and asylum issues for illegal immigrants. One aspect of our trip dealt with detainees and aiding them in their quest to either be removed from the country or fight for their right to say within the US's borders. I learned a lot about how immigration law works in this respect. Most importantly I was able to see the problem with the current laws that the US has in place. Immigrants who commit crimes of moral turpitude are sent back to their countries, but this term is ill-defined and leads to an significant amount of uncertainty. In addition, smaller offenses such as shoplifting may lead to deportation. Thankfully there are defenses and reasons to be able to stay such as family and dependence. But do we really think it is just to send a person to another country for shoplifting just because they were not lucky enough to be born in a democratic society in the first place?

Along with the discussions we had, we also did a detention center visit. I was actually the only one able to go to one of the detention centers and found it very interesting. The one I went to had decent accommodations and the detainees seemed to have been treated well. Though, after meeting with them, I found their stories upsetting and depressing. Some of them could not speak any English and their detention officers would not answer their phones or could not understand them sufficiently enough to help them meet their goals. When a male detainee began to cry, I really started to begin to understand what was going on these detention centers. I could not imagine traveling to another country, and at the border being thrown in jail because I said the wrong thing, and then most importantly, not being able to figure it out within a day or two. Some of these men and women who legitimately had no reason to be in jail (just a misunderstanding due to language barriers) were stuck in US prisons for weeks. They came from very normal lives and were just here to visit a friend, etc.

The other issue we looked at, which I spent most of my time researching was asylum. I was given a case about a man from the Central African Republic who was seeking asylum to be able to stay in the US. He came here with a diplomatic visa to be able to work in the embassy, but while he was here, the Prime Minister (his brother-in-law) was overthrown, and the visa expired. His family left in the CAR was forced to flee to save their lives, and therefore, he could not return home. I found this case very troubling because although it is probable that if his story is true he should be able to get citizenship eventually, meanwhile, he has nothing. He currently cannot work unless he does it illegally and he has no food for his son. He is completely reliant upon charitable organizations.

Overall, I found the trip very enlightening and important. Upon my departure I realized what it means to be an American citizen and how lucky we are in the US that the Republicans don't "overthrow" the Democrats causing civil wars and mass uprisings. In addition, beyond the fact that these people cannot or truly do not want to go back to the country's that they were born in, is it really just to make them? Is there a better way that US can do this or think about immigrants? These are definitely things that I would like to look into in the future and I hope to continue to do work on immigration issues.

Jill Dalfior , February 2005
Reflection from 2005 Immigration Service Trip

The most influential part of my experience was a series of intake interviews that we conducted under the supervision of Boston College Law School graduate Patricia Mejia. Going into the detention center I had a fairly good idea of who we would encounter; immigration detention centers are filled mostly with men with limited financial resources who have been convicted of at least one crime and have subsequently been picked up by immigration authorities after completing their criminal sentences. After serving time in prison, many of these men have no resources to hire a lawyer, have few chances to escape deportation, and want to be deported just to end their time locked up in immigration detention. Others are quite established in the United States, with families, jobs, and houses. While I believe that these men deserve more than summary deportation, deserve to be represented by attorneys whether or not they can afford one, and deserve the same procedural rights as American citizens, I have to admit they are not the most sympathetic immigrants. They have made mistakes, and sometimes very big ones. We saw men with drug problems, men who had committed multiple robberies and thefts, and men who had physically harmed their loved ones while they were abusing drugs. These are not men that would normally pull at the heart strings. These same men, though, when they told their stories made me realize how close their life stories were with ours. One young man was in an overly stressful job and started to take stimulants to help him get through the day. Soon, he was hooked on drugs, committing crimes, and landed in jail. His elderly father fainted and spent three days in the hospital when his son called him from jail. He had come to the US at such a young age that he knew nothing of his home country and had no one there to help him if he was to be deported.

Another man got hooked on drugs after being prescribed strong painkillers after surgery. He became abusive with his wife of 25 years and found himself in jail. While serving his time he had gone to substance abuse support meetings, gotten clean, and was committed to proving to his wife that he was the man she had married. When he described how much he loved his wife and how much he regretted all the things he had done to hurt her, I could see how sincere he was and how much he wanted just one chance to make his life right.

After meeting with these two men and four others, we left the detention center for the day. I felt very strongly that spending a week helping our supervising attorney was just not enough. I had a strong desire to stay and help the clients we had met with. It wasn't only that their stories were sympathetic. What motivated me even more was that it was clear that both of these men would not win their cases without legal assistance, and that with about 10 or 20 hours of legal coaching and assistance they would have a much stronger case that would have a decent chance of success. It tormented me to think that 20 hours of work could be the difference between each of these men being returned to their home countries and having their lives and families torn apart, and having them get a second chance. They would not get this 20 hours of help, and most likely would be returned to their native countries. While I realized that each of the men we saw at the detention center had made a mistake, the price that they were paying for their mistakes seemed grossly disproportionate. After having paid their debt to society with time in jail as Americans would, they were then held in immigration detention for months or a year or more before being permanently returned to their native countries. After being deported they would likely never be able to return to the United States. Had these men had legal representation, they could have presented their best case and had the judge decide whether or not they deserved this second chance. Without this representation, though, they would not get their proper chance to present their best case, and, as a result, would likely lose.

My experience at the detention center was enhanced by our supervising attorney, Boston College Law School graduate Patricia Mejia. Ms. Mejia was an inspiring example of how an attorney can do rewarding work, make a decent living and still do a substantial amount of pro bono work. Ms. Mejia is a solo practitioner who takes on many pro bono cases at the detention center in addition to her other immigration cases. She took an entire week out of her schedule to provide us with a rich experience working on different types of immigration cases. Her willingness to take such a large amount of time out of her normal schedule and the substantial commitment that she has made to pro bono work were inspiring to me. Ms. Mejia's example showed me how I could shape my own career in immigration law to make a career for myself that could provide for me and my family financially, sustain my intellectual curiosity for many years, and be emotionally fulfilling to me.

Alex Parcan , February 2005
Reflections on Working for FIAC in Miami

To begin with, I have to say that the trip we took absolutely surpassed my expectations in every sense of the word. Of course, spending a week in Miami with the weather being at a constant 80 degrees was a very pleasant respite from the early March weather one usually experiences in the Boston area, but I can honestly also say that the work I did was both personally fulfilling and immensely interesting.

I spent our brief time working for FIAC, an organization that provides legal services to immigrants in the Miami area. While in the office, I spent my time doing legal research for one of the attorneys there. This involved doing research on the current country conditions in Venezuela with the goal of helping our attorney make an innovative legal argument that would allow her client to remain in the country because of undue hardship she would experience upon returning to her home country. It was extremely interesting work and I really saw how far I had come in just my one short semester of studying law at BC. I had done some immigration work before coming to law school, but I was extremely surprised to find out how much my brief legal training allowed my to really get my head around the issues in question and ultimately formulate an objective memo which I presented to my attorney at the end of the week.

Perhaps the most moving part of the entire experience was getting the opportunity to visit inmates in the local detention center. I was given the opportunity to tag along with another FIAC attorney while he went to counsel a number of inmates in a sort of informal question and answer setting. It was truly a touching experience to see the looks in the eyes of these people, most of whom could not afford any other legal representation. It was also quite touching in that many of the people thought of me as another lawyer and were asking me questions themselves. At the end of the question and answer period, one of the people there, a man from Chile I believe, even said to me, "Thank you, for all the work that you do. We all need your help and appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts." It was genuinely moving.

Additionally, while at the detention center, I was given the opportunity to watch as a FIAC attorney did one-on-one client counseling sessions with inmates. I learned so much just by sitting there as the lawyer went through the basics of the cases that he was formulating with the inmates. It was also tremendous to be able to sort of put individual faces to many of these people whose rights are virtually nonexistent. It's one thing to read cases, like so many of us have so far this year, but what one frequently forgets, I think, is that these cases often involve real people with often pressing legal problems. In that sense, I believe I got the chance to really experience what the legal profession is all about instead of just reading about it in a case book. That, to me, was a very significant and moving opportunity.

Finally, we also got the chance to attend a number of hearings throughout the week. Most of the time, these involved large numbers of people going to court to sort of set up their cases in front of a judge. The lawyers at FIAC called these "cattle-calls", presumably because they were fairly impersonal and involved large numbers of hearings at the same time. This was also an extremely enlightening experience. We got the chance to really see the legal system in motion and were exposed to the actual procedures that one goes through in immigration court.

Overall, I would genuinely recommend such a trip to any first year law student. For me, personally, as someone who has a very keen interest in immigration law, it was absolutely tremendous to get the opportunity to experience the work of an immigration lawyer first hand and really get to experience the legal process through the eyes of people who really need our help. However, even just as a learning experience, I would recommend the trip to absolutely anyone. I feel almost as though I learned more about the legal process in one week than I learned in a semester of law school. In and of itself, that makes the trip worthwhile to anyone.

Rebecca Cantu, February 2005
Harlingen, TX

First and foremost I am thankful for having had the opportunity to participate in this year's Immigration Law Trip - it is truly one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. My group and I traveled to Harlingen, Texas and volunteer with ProBAR, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal informaion, aid, and representation to detainees being held at the local detention center (Port Isabel), as well as immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley.

ProBAR was a wonderful place to volunteer, and I would definitely recommend that future trips work with this organization. Not only are the attorneys and paralegals that work at ProBAR very committed their work and willing to provide advice and guidance, but there is such a pressing need for manpower that my group was broken down, assigned cases, and given hands on work on the first day. During the course of the week my partner and I worked exclusively on the case of my client, a Guatemalan woman with a ten-year-old son seeking withholding of removal. My client feared returning to Guatemala because of the long history of brutal domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband - who will likely kill her if she is retuned to Guatemala. Our primary duty was to interview our client (at the detention center itself) and translating her testimony from Spanish to English in order to write an affadavit on her behalf. In addition to the affadivit we prepared a packet of supporting documents (e.g. country conditions, cases, U.N. conventions on abuse and torture, etc.) for submidssion to the court.

Going into this experience, I had some theoretical understanding or pre-conception of the immigration process and the conditions that detainees experience. That said, volunteering at ProBAR gave me a very real, concrete awareness of the realities of detention. In my opinion, the conditions are cruel and dehuminizing, and frankly, I am appalled that they are treated like criminals and housed in quasi-jails. I am also appalled at the intransparency of the immigraiton system; it seems unjust to throw someone into proceedings without guaranteeing that they have representation and ensuring that they understand their options and the future effects of their proceedings.

Despite that the precarious nature of my client's position and her heartbreaking story made the trip emotionally draining, it was an extremely valuable experience. First, I am satisfied that I was able to give of my time and training to help someone, give them some hope, and have an effect on someone's life. This immigration law trip was the first time I have been able to actually apply what I am learning in the classroom in a real-world situation; it's incredibly motivating.

Second, the trip made me wish that more of my colleagues (and that the legal profession) in general were less business oriented and more civic-minded. My time at ProBAR highlighted the fact that the law is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal to protect democracy (and democratic principles like liberty, equality, and justice).

Third, this trip definitely reaffirmed in my mind the need for legal access, and the need for attorneys to give their time to fight for the powerless and provide them the legal means to defend themselves.

Fourth, this trip reminded me that I must be thankful for the right and privileges that I enjoy as a U.S. citizen, and that it is essentially an accident of birth. U.S. law affords citizens and nationals many liberties and guarantees, but does not extend them to people in general. I see an troubling hypocricy in Americans promoting democratic ideals and decrying other countries for human rights violations, but not fully enforcing them within own borders.

Fifth, it was encouraging to see attorneys giving their time in a pro bono/public interest capacity. This trip reaffirmed my commitment to public interest law, and has given me renewed energy to resist the general pressures to "go corporate." Indeed, this summer I be working at the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project in order to give more of my time and to explore whether this is an area that I want to work in after I graduate.

Matthew Sadler, February 2005
Reflections on Immigration Trip

I had three take aways from this trip:

  1. This trip solidified my hatred of the American penal system. What a joke it is to say that jail is for rehabilitation. It is for caging "animals and unfit riffraff." I was obviously most affected by the visit to the Piedmont Correctional Facility in Farmville, VA. There housed in a large room were over 100 men of all ages awaiting deportation. Most were finished serving a conviction for drug possession (another joke, the war on drugs is as fictitious as the war on terror). I listened to their stories and actually did not believe many of them, nor did I think that they necessarily deserved to stay. Some had made a mistake and as a consequences would lose there green card or visa status, some had crossed illegally and were being sent back. One man who had been here since 1957, and despite his whole family holding United States Citizenship would likely be sent back home for a (large) drug conviction. I am not apologizing or absolving them of mistakes but it was an illustration to me of the silliness that passes for the thought of learned men. Who came up with these incomprehensible, ever-changing, and disjointed rules? Why pretend that the American ideal was ever real? "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Hell no we don't want them, sorry No Vacancy. We attack supply like that has worked so well in any field, drugs, economics, etc. But I digress.

  2. I was immediately called upon to interact with clients at the jail as well as over the phone. I authored an advocacy memo, as well as structure interview questions. It was a great experience but when you work for poor clients you are given a wake up, I had very little guidance in my placement. That of course is not from lack of access to the one full time lawyer in the office, I often asked questions of my guide for the week, but with so much to do, so much to accomplish you are largely autonomous out of necessity. I loved the work. It put a reason behind the research, a purpose behind the writing and arguments. I was enthralled and entranced with the idea that what I did today would be used to help someone stay in the greatest country on Earth (although that isn't saying too much). I spent the entire time in my chair working because I was helping someone. The week just went by so quick and having Monday off for President's Day shortened the week too much I felt like I was just getting into a groove when I had to leave.

  3. I was amazed at the skill and proficiency of Mary Holper. She was a truly committed and worthy teacher and mentor. Her love for what she was doing shined through the whole week. While I do not believe I will pursue a career in immigrant's rights, it was an experience I would not hesitate to do again. I hope I can find an area of law that I will enjoy as much as Mary enjoys working in this field.