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Asylum Law Project Volunteers Nationwide

JANUARY 26, 2009—During two weeks of winter break, Jan. 5-16, the 70 members of the University of Minnesota Law School's 2008-09 Asylum Law Project (ALP) volunteered approximately 2800 hours to legal aid organizations at home and across the United States. When the volunteering week during spring break in March is complete, ALP will have sent nearly 100 students to six locations (Minneapolis, Miami, Las Vegas, Nashville, El Paso, Texas, and Florence, Arizona).

The organization, led by first-year Law School students, is one of only a handful that allow 1Ls to participate in actual legal work—usually available only to second- and third-year law students. ALP members volunteer at nonprofit organizations at U.S. points of entry to represent immigrants and asylum-seekers on legal issues. The result is that 1Ls receive an introduction to legal work in the field of immigration while filling a critical need for legal assistance among those seeking asylum.

ALP President Jordan Shepherd and vice-president Matthew Webster traveled with other volunteers to El Paso in January, where they worked with the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Texas Rural Legal Aid, and Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services. 1Ls conducted client interviews, carried out legal research, and worked on case briefs. Equally important, they viewed adult and child detention centers, experienced immigration court and juvenile court, toured an immigrant safe house, and watched special programs, including a presentation on Border Patrol.

1L Kara Bovee, an El Paso volunteer, says: "ALP was a hands-on learning experience. It provided me with the opportunity to learn more about U.S. immigration laws, not as a casual observer but by working with specific cases. The ALP trip was not just about what I learned; it was also about contributing to the work of our agency."

The organization was founded in the early 1990s by a small group of Law School students who went to Texas during spring break. Today, Shepherd says, "We send out multiple groups during three weeks of the year to volunteer our labor for a 40-hour work week to assist those who most need representation in immigration and other courts."