Jessica Chi '15L Inside the Immigrant Rights Clinic
Jessica Chi '15L
As the daughter of immigrants and as a child growing up in an immigrant community, I have always been interested in immigration issues. In college, immigration issues continued to be present in my areas of study, international relations and immigration sociology. When I committed to attending Washington and Lee for law school, I knew about the immigration clinic and was interested in eventually working with the clinic. By the time I needed to decide on what I wanted to do my 3L year, I knew that the Immigrant Rights Clinic was my first choice and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work for the Clinic throughout the summer and the entire school year.
The Immigrant Rights Clinic works primarily with low-income immigrants in the Shenandoah Valley. It does mostly removal defense work - that is, it works to keep immigrants, with valid claims to remain in the United States, from being deported. However, the Clinic does do some work with affirmatively seeking lawful status for some immigrants in the area. Those affirmatively seeking status are individuals who are not in deportation proceedings, but qualify for some type of lawful status within the United States.
At the Clinic, I've had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of immigration issues, often interacting directly with clients. I have prepared Greencard applications for clients and put together extensive packages for client U Visa petitions. U Visa petitions are available for undocumented immigrants who have been the victim of certain crimes and have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of that crime. These petitions involve writing detailed affidavits, communication with law enforcement, and collecting evidence for each client. Preparing these petitions has helped me develop my written advocacy, communication, and organizational skills.
In addition to preparing affirmative applications and petitions for clients, I also had the opportunity to represent clients in prosecutorial discretion requests, asylum applications, and the Special Juvenile Immigrant Status process. I've learned to create case theories and strategies for success from various points in client representation and have had the opportunity to advocate for my clients both in court and directly to government attorneys. Throughout the year, I learned a great deal about developing and presenting the strongest case possible in an effective manner. I am proud to say that the Clinic had an incredibly successful year, as every case that has received a final decision has been in our clients' favor.
The Clinic has also provided me with the opportunity to work with several organizations on broader advocacy and community education issues. I've worked with the ACLU of Virginia in educating local sheriffs on the unconstitutionality of ICE detainer requests, with CAIR Coalition in screening detainees held at the Farmville Detention Center, and with a variety of local organizations, particularly New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center in Harrisonburg, on screening clinics providing information on eligibility for various deferred action programs to the local immigrant community. Working on these projects with these organizations provided me with a unique opportunity that not many law students have access to.
I am grateful to the Clinic for all of these opportunities and experiences. Not only was I able to familiarize myself with a variety of immigration law options, I was also able to interact directly with clients and my refine client contact skills, which I know will be helpful to me in my future law career. I've seen cases through from the beginning to the end and have learned how to handle each step of the process. I've learned how to communicate with people of different backgrounds and different positions. I've learned how to advocate on behalf of my clients to judges, opposing counsel, and the media. I learned how to organize events and mobilize volunteers for these events. I believe these are all skills that will be useful to me throughout my law career.
I am grateful to Professor Baluarte for giving my fellow clinic students and me these opportunities and for allowing us to become smart, independent, and efficient young attorneys. Working at the Clinic has been one of the best experiences of my law school career and much of that is due to the people I've worked with and the experiences I've had.