Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic Serves Clients in Climate of Fear
The Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic (LIJC) has always worked long hours fulfilling its mission to “advance the rights of the indigent immigrant population in East Los Angeles through direct legal services, education and community empowerment, while teaching law students effective immigrants’ rights lawyering skills in a real world setting.”
Now, in the aftermath of the presidential election, the clinic’s workload has tripled and the clinic’s mission has become ever more urgent.
Founded by Marissa Montes ’12 and Emily Robinson ’12 when they were Loyola Law School students, the LIJC is the only law school-housed community-based immigration clinic in the United States.
“LIJC was truly born out of a student movement that started with the Immigration Law Society, a student club on campus,” says Montes. “Loyola was known for its dedication to social justice, so we became proactive in increasing our own exposure to immigration law practice to address a significant need in the L.A. community.”
The duo first worked to found the Immigration Law Society and then set about establishing ties with nonprofit organizations that provide a lifeline to area immigrants, helping fill an access-to-justice gap.
“Building relationships with Homeboy Industries and Dolores Mission to host intake clinics helped establish trust in the community and provided us a stream of new clients,” Robinson says. “We then pursued various fellowship opportunities in hopes of making a clinic at Loyola a reality.”
Upon graduation, the alumnae were jointly awarded the Loyola Post Graduate Public Interest Fellowship, which allowed them the opportunity to seek seed money and pursue their concept of a “dream clinic.”
LIJC efforts include conducting intake clinics to screen for all possible immigration remedies and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) workshops; engaging in community education panels and policy advocacy work; representing individuals in administrative hearings and interviews, as well as before the Executive Office for Immigration Review; consulting with clients and students; and working with coalition groups.
Since the election, attendance at the weekly clinics has tripled to as many as 60-70 individuals at each location – a formidable workload for a team of four attorneys. Most clients are seeking legal advice, representation in affirmative forms of relief like the U Visa for Victims of Crime and assistance with DACA renewals, and naturalization applications.
“Although we were very much shocked by the results of the election, we knew the impact it would have on the immigrant community and that we had to quickly mobilize and coordinate responsive efforts against the new administration,” Robinson says.
The LIJC is working with local advocates and coalition groups to prepare for the enforcement changes threatened by Trump. The clinic has also advocated at the local and state level to push for Los Angeles and California to adopt measures that would eliminate the collaboration between state agencies and federal immigration enforcement. They maintain an ongoing dialogue with the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
“Although the community feels a sense of unity and is thankful for our hard work on their behalf, it is without a doubt that the immigrant community is under attack and incredibly fearful of the changes to come,” Montes says. “Many of those seeking our help have expressed desperation and much concern as to what would happen to them and their family members if a deportation were to occur.
Both Montes and Robinson agree that although this may be the majority sentiment, it is essential now more than ever to encourage community members not live in fear and to remain hopeful. They send the message that it is imperative that the immigrant community stay motivated, become knowledgeable as to their rights and prepare to become civically engaged.
The LIJC staff includes faculty supervisor Kathleen Kim and two staff attorneys, Sandra Ruiz ’15 and Alejandro Barajas ‘15. In addition, LLS adjunct professor Gina Amato assists with clinical course and student supervision, and the clinic is in the process of hiring a supervising attorney. The LIJC is currently searching for an additional attorney to add to its roster, a step that is crucial given community reliance on LIJC’s services.
Each year, the LIJC invites 12 law students to enroll into its full-year clinical program, with about eight returning as advanced students.
“The role that our students take on can be described as ‘associate attorneys.’ It is their responsibility to engage in active legal representation and advocacy on behalf of their assigned clients,” Robinson says. “Our goal is to provide our clinical law students with real world practical experience that will enable them to hit the ground running once they graduate.”
Since 2013, almost 50 students have participated in the program and assisted the clinic in conducting more than 10,000 consultations. The students handle a variety of cases, assisting clients in obtaining humanitarian forms of relief such as U-visas for victims of crime, T-visa for victims of trafficking, asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, representing clients in removal proceedings and more. In addition, students engage in community advocacy and policy work.
The LIJC also relies on law, undergraduate and high school student volunteers. Each semester, five to eight student volunteers assist with translation, client intake and interviews, and administrative tasks. They are trained to help with immigration applications, and they also assist at weekend community events and workshops. Additionally, last year the LIJC launched a law student training program so that Loyola students would be able to join a coalition and complete citizenship applications. Over 120 law students were trained. In the wake of the election, student interest in volunteering has spiked, leading to an uptick in training workshops.
In addition to founding partners Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries, LIJC works closely with East Los Angeles Community College, L.A. Voice and others. “Besides the help of our volunteers, our work could not be done without the various partners we engage that assist us with resource and community outreach,” Robinson says.
In spring 2016, LIJC won the prestigious $100,000 Emil Gumpert Award from the American College of Trial Lawyers — the first to honor a school-based clinic.
“The award truly helped us gain credibility in the legal community and allowed us to expand our outreach efforts with other community partners and to access more individuals in the East Los Angeles Area,” Montes says.