Rural Immigrant Access Clinic Launched; Law School’s 25th Clinic
The Law School just launched a new clinic designed to provide legal assistance to the growing number of immigrants living in rural areas.
The Rural Immigrant Access Clinic is an outgrowth of a successful two-year initiative in which Law School faculty and students, along with volunteer attorneys, have periodically provided legal assistance to immigrants in pop-up legal clinics in greater Minnesota and the Dakotas. The new clinic formalizes the program and converts it from a one-off experience for students to a semester-long learning opportunity. It is the 25th clinic at the Law School, and the fourth immigration-focused clinic run through the James H. Binger Center for New Americans.
Deepinder Mayell, executive director of the Binger Center, said that at the start of the rural immigrant access initiative in January 2017, it quickly became apparent that there were a lot of unmet legal needs and community concerns. “We immediately began seeing very large turnouts,” he observed.
Mayell also noted that immigrants are a fast-growing segment of the population in a number rural regions. “Rural areas are not what a lot of people think they are,” he explained. “Like the rest of the country, the face of these areas is changing, and there are a lot of immigrants working and living in rural areas particularly near meat packing facilities and dairy farms.”
Up to a half dozen students may enroll in the program, which, over the course of a semester, will include a weekly classroom component and regular participation in legal clinics outside the Twin Cities metro area. The pop-up clinics are run in partnership with other legal assistance providers, including the ACLU-MN, Volunteer Lawyers Network and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. The mobile clinics are hosted in venues that local immigrants can easily access, including schools, churches, libraries, and community centers.
Mayell believes that having a dedicated cohort of students will provide an advantage to not only the rural immigrant clients—who will be receiving assistance from individuals who have the high level of proficiency that comes from regularly handling these types of matters—but also to the students, who will gain a deep knowledge of the issues faced by this growing segment of society.
“Our students are going to be leaders in our community, and having them understand the shortcomings of our system and the poverty-related challenges immigrants face is a very powerful lesson,” Mayell said.
—By Mark A. Cohen