A Visit to the Clinic

October 5, 2011

The Law School’s clinics can make remarkable changes in the lives of their clients, perhaps none more dramatically than the Immigration and Human Rights Law Clinic. The student attorneys in the Immigration Clinic represent refugees who are fleeing persecution in their native countries and seeking asylum in the United States.

Claudia Ochoa (‘12) says she didn’t know what to expect when she started at the Immigration Clinic last fall. But soon she was part of a team doing interviews and investigations on behalf of a woman from Ethiopia seeking safe haven after a long trip to safety.

The woman’s journey began in 2005, when she escaped from an Ethiopian hospital where she was being treated for beatings and torture because of her political affiliations. She made her way to South Africa, only to be robbed and raped. Over the next four years, she traveled to Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. By 2009 she was in Texas, in detention after immigration officers caught her illegally crossing the border from Mexico. After a routine detention-camp physical revealed her pregnancy, she requested asylum and set off to be with a friend in Minnesota.

The Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, under the direction of supervising attorney Prof. Steve Meili, took on her case. Her “credibility was constantly attacked,” Ochoa says. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted overseas investigations that led to a series of misunderstandings, Ochoa says, and the case dragged on for more than a year. But the clinic team didn’t give up.

The student lawyers, as they do for all cases, researched and wrote legal documents, tracked down potential witnesses, interviewed and re-interviewed the client, and prepared her for and represented her in court. In the end, Ochoa says, the team was “able to prove that our client had reason to request and be granted asylum.” In January 2011, “after almost two years of struggle in the United States and more than five years away from her home country of Ethiopia, our client was granted asylum at the Immigration Court in Bloomington, Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Daily recently took an interest in the Immigration Clinic’s work and published an article in the Sept. 29 issue after talking to Ochoa; student directors Lindsey Greising (‘12), Kevin Lampone (‘12), and Jennifer Singleton (‘12); and Prof. Meili. Greising told the reporter that she will never forget her experiences in the clinic. “It’s something you can’t get out of your system.”

University President Eric Kaler and Karen Kaler also spoke with Ochoa about the Ethiopian case and other work the clinic does to help people being persecuted in their homelands. The Kalers visited the Law School on Sept. 21 during a week-long “Campus Crawl” to get acquainted with the University of Minnesota community.

They also spoke with Prof. Jennifer Green and Human Rights Litigation & International Legal Advocacy Clinic student directors Melissa Muro Lamere (‘12) and Feras Sleiman (‘12). Along with five additional student attorneys, they drafted an amicus curiae brief that was cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia in the case of Doe vs. Exxon.

The Law School’s clinical education program, already recognized internationally for its depth and quality, continues to grow. Second- and third-year students now have 24 clinics, from bankruptcy to workers’ rights, from which to make a choice. All of them help students hone their lawyering skills while making a real difference.

The Minnesota Daily article is available at http://www.mndaily.com/2011/09/29/law-clinic-gives-students-experience.

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