Students share their stories about working with immigrants and refugees
Hometown: Aurora, Illinois
My parents are immigrants, so I have always felt a personal connection to immigration work. I assisted with detained individuals’ asylum applications. The Florence Project provides free legal aid to detained immigrants in Arizona, but due to the high volume of detainees, it is unable to provide direct representation to everyone. The individuals we helped during our week of service likely would not have been assisted otherwise. No class lecture can compare to doing immigration work on the ground, especially so near the border.
ELVIS SALDIAS VILLARROEL
Hometown: Wauseon, Ohio
My client was a young woman from Venezuela who fled after being kidnapped, tortured, and threatened with death for refusing to align her political views with the Maduro regime. We helped her fill out her Withholding of Removal application after the judge rejected her initial attempt. She said we gave her story breadth and felt much better about her odds in her upcoming hearing.
My family came to America from Bolivia at the turn of the century on visas that expired three months into our stay. Unable to renew them, we became undocumented. We started our lives here in a second-story room of a home that we shared with two other families. A tough situation, but we nevertheless felt that we were given a chance to improve on that situation.
With asylum law, it often feels like the executive branch is setting the rules of the game and also refereeing. Cases that would have met the elements of a successful asylum claim a year or two ago don’t anymore because of new policies. These are policies that seem to make it as hard as possible for an asylum seeker to win.
Hometown: Toulouse, France
I was on the Chicago team. Our project was to create a manual for attorneys and advocates to guide them on how to report abuses against migrant children in federal custody. The project taught me how truly difficult it is to work as an immigration advocate and how hard it is for immigration attorneys to navigate the U.S. immigration system. There are so many different agencies and departments regulating immigration and migrant detainees, and it is extremely difficult to nail down where to turn for certain answers to client problems. But I also learned how passionate and hardworking immigration advocates are.
Hometown: Miami, Florida
I moved to the United States shortly after my 11th birthday with my mom and two younger brothers. It took almost 15 years for me to obtain legal status. During that time, I lived in fear of deportation every single day—not just for my own future and safety, but that of my family as well.
The individuals I met were all fleeing extreme violence and were desperate for safety. They were not criminals. Instead, they wanted an opportunity to have a new life—similar to why my mother moved our family to the U.S.
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
I became really interested in immigration after my parents were deported to Mexico 10 years ago. They were poorly represented, which motivated me to want to pursue a career in law and to help give back to the immigrant community.
My client was a young man who had fled El Salvador because he was afraid of being tortured by a dangerous gang that had been targeting his family. His case made it a bit more difficult to find him relief because he had traveled through Guatemala and Mexico and did not seek asylum in either country before reaching the U.S. I helped him write a compelling story in his application and helped gather all the evidence needed to support his claim. It was heartbreaking to hear about his wife and son, and the sacrifices he had to make by leaving them.