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Through Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice, students aim to provide representation for asylum seekers

An inaugural 13-student cohort has begun working with local lawyers to process asylum cases

By
Contributing Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2021

The SCIJ has partnered with the Watson Institute’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies on a program for students to engage in immigrant justice work.

At the Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice, an organization incorporated last July, undergraduate students are acquiring the tools to represent asylum seekers in immigration court. 

The organization recently partnered with the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs on a program that allows students to get involved in immigrant justice work. The SCIJ also offers the program at Worcester State University. 

Whether an asylum seeker has legal representation or not can determine the fate of their case — 90 percent of cases without legal representation are denied by immigration courts. 

“That’s the immediate problem that (the) Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice is trying to address, to level the playing field and (to) help people who otherwise would have an uphill battle to be able to get legal status in this country,” said SCIJ Student Coordinator Andrew Steinberg ’22. 

The goal of SCIJ is “to ensure that the majority of people who are going through immigration proceedings have someone to represent them (and) have someone to help them through that process,” Executive Director of the SCIJ Jonathan Goldman said.

Trained students process cases, file forms, answer questions about immigration and advocate for asylum seekers.

During the fall semester, the students underwent a 13-week training program that consisted of lectures, homework, readings and quizzes, according to Steinberg. 

This month they have started working on immigration cases, alongside local immigration lawyers. 

“What I really love about SCIJ is it really takes a two-fold approach,” cohort member Chaelin Jung ’23 said. This includes “learning asylum law and then working with local attorneys and community organizations,” as well as obtaining the “organizing and mobilization tools so that eventually we can be part of some actual work to address” issues within the immigration system, she said. 

When deciding which universities to partner with, SCIJ looked for communities in need of more resources for immigrants. They targeted Providence and Worcester, which fall outside of the legal catchment area of the Greater Boston Area legal services, Goldman said.

“There are organizations which do similar work … but the truth is that there’s not enough people to process the number of cases, especially in Providence, which, compared to Boston and other big cities, doesn’t have the infrastructure,” Steinberg said. “We want to be of service to the people who are living just outside of Brown because we understand Brown’s power (and) position … to help in this situation,” he added. 

All 13 students in the Brown cohort are multilingual, and many are also immigrants or first-generation Americans. Goldman noted “the level of genuineness and honesty and vulnerability that students are bringing to this work.”

“It just feels like a collective that truly wants to learn how we can make significant change in immigration policy,” Shantal Hernandez ’23, a student in the cohort, said. 

“My hope is that programs like this will continue to exist in more universities,” Hernandez said. “We simply do not have enough immigration attorneys to do the work, and so our job is to alleviate as much of that work as possible so they can represent even more people.”

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