The Home Base Immigration Clinic Provides Legal Service and Hope

Alumnae Helena Marissa Montes ’12 (far left) and Emily Robinson ’12 (far right) identified an issue plaguing immigrants in the Los Angeles community while they were third-year students and sought to remedy it. While working on volunteer projects with the Immigration Law Society (IMLS), a student group on campus, they found that immigrants face daunting obstacles once they have entered the criminal system, such as the inability to obtain legal services that they’re entitled to receive. In their quest to fill this void, Montes and Robinson founded the new Home Base Immigration Clinic (HBIC). Housed at Loyola’s downtown Public Interest Law Center, Home Base provides immigration law services to underserved Angelenos – and will soon become part of Loyola’s curriculum.

The clinic began as the brainchild of the IMLS and was staffed by Loyola students and volunteers from the Mexican American Bar Association. IMLS developed “law days” that give hundreds of community members the chance to walk in and receive free legal consultations from experienced immigration attorneys. Simultaneously, IMLS students gain experience utilizing their legal skills to help real clients.  “Passionate about serving immigrants, we were very successful at mobilizing volunteer attorneys, law students and community partners to provide legal consultations to the underserved population of immigrants who reside in East Los Angeles,” said Robinson. 

To address this disparity, Montes and Robinson narrowed their focus to the communities of the Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries. Dolores Mission Church provides a quality education for indigent children at the elementary school and a place of worship and hope for its parishioners of Boyle Heights. Homeboy Industries helps former gang-involved men and women start a new life by giving free services such as tattoo removal, substance-abuse counseling and employment services.  

The duo also enlisted the help of Professor Kathleen Kim, a nationally renowned expert on immigration law, to help make their vision a reality. “Professor Kim has been integral to this entire process,” said Robinson, noting that Kim helped the two alumnae refine the Home Base model and concept.” Kim shared in their dream to develop a clinic dedicated to immigrant advocacy on campus. So, the Home Base Immigration Clinic (HBIC) was born. 

The HBIC provides legal services to immigrants with criminal convictions and seeks to educate those most vulnerable to deportation. The need is great. Families with mixed-immigration status make up more than 50 percent of L.A. residents. From January 2011 to June 2011, 46,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens were deported, and many of these deportees were long-term residents of the United States. Though many deportees were eligible for immigration relief, they were denied legal services and lacked knowledge of their legal rights to challenge authorities.  

The HBIC functioned as a nonprofit for two years until Robinson and Montes received some amazing news: They were the recipients of the competitive 2012 Loyola Law School Post-Graduate Fellowship in Public Interest Law, which offers funding to support public-interest jobs and newly developed projects.  In addition to the fellowship, the HBIC has received generous donations from Loyola Marymount University and renowned attorney Jack Girardi ’72 to get the clinic off the ground.

Currently, the clinic hosts weekly community-intake events at Dolores Mission Church and Homeboy Industries in addition to workshops with criminal defense lawyers on hand for people seeking legal advice. Since graduating from Loyola, Robinson and Montes have worked with community members, professors, administrators and attorneys to make the HBIC a permanent beacon to those who depend on its services in East Los Angeles.  Though the clinic is relatively new, it has already made a great impact on a community that desperately needs its help.

One HBIC client, named “Susanna,” entered the U.S. unlawfully when she was a baby and dreamed to attend college.  At 16, her life took a turn during a family barbeque when she was the victim of an attempted murder. Susanna was accidentally shot in the stomach and back by gang members and spent more than a year recuperating.  She stated that because she was a resident of the impoverished and high-crime area of East Los Angeles, she could not access legal services and did not know that she qualified for immigration relief. That’s when the HBIC intervened and helped her apply for a U-visa for crime victims. “Home Base has provided [me] and many others with the support and guidance that has allowed me to move forward with my life,” Susanna said.

At the close of 2012, the HBIC celebrated another milestone: its inclusion in the Loyola Law School curriculum.  This fall, students interested in the intersection of immigration and criminal law can enroll in the clinic and take on real cases with real clients. There will be a classroom component taught once a week by the founders themselves, Montes and Robinson, and supervised by Professor Kim.  Students will gain exposure to substantive and procedural law as it relates to their client’s cases, in addition to many volunteer opportunities in community education and intake events. Students will also hold office hours for 8-10 hours each week in which they will complete their casework.  In 2013, the HBIC moved into Loyola’s downtown Public Interest Law Center on 800 Figueroa, which also houses the Disability Rights Legal Clinic and The Center for Conflict Resolution.