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Immigrant Rights Project Update

An update from Professor Elizabeth McCormick. The Immigrant Rights Project is part of the Clinical Education Program at The University of Tulsa College of Law.

In the nine years since students began representing clients in the Immigrant Rights Project, almost 200 clients have been granted some form of legal immigration status and many more clients are waiting to have their petitions decided. It is the nature of the US immigration system that many months, and sometimes even years, might go by between the time a petition for immigration status is filed and a decision on the petition is reached. I share here some recent outcomes for clinic clients for which our students, many now graduates of the College of Law, deserve congratulations and appreciation. These victories are representative of the great work that all clinic students do every day, semester after semester.

Over the last few semesters, the following and other clinic students have worked with dedication in their representation of clients whose petitions for relief are pending or will soon be filed, and I hope to report on those outcomes in the near future. In still other cases, students have worked closely with clients conducting extensive fact investigation and legal research only to come to the conclusion that the client cannot or should not go forward with an application for relief. Regardless of the outcome, clinic students all provide a tremendous service to clients who might otherwise be without representation and whose stories might otherwise not be told.

Elizabeth McCormick
Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Director, Immigrant Rights Project, Director, Clinical Education Programs


Clinic1In December 2014, almost two years after her original application for relief was filed, a client represented by Whitney Bowman (’13) and Edwina Christiansen (’13) was granted lawful permanent resident status. The client had endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. Whitney and Edwina worked with the client to prepare her petition for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and, when Whitney returned to the clinic as a law fellow after graduation in 2013, she worked with the client again to prepare her application for permanent residence. As a result of the students’ advocacy, the client was able to escape from the abuse and is now able to live in safety in the United States with her US citizen children.

Clinic2We also learned late last semester that a client represented by Nathalie Guerrero (’13) and Jarit Polley (’13) was granted a U non-immigrant visa. This client was a victim of a shooting intended to be a murder-suicide by her abusive ex-husband. Nathalie and Jarit worked closely with the client to draft a detailed personal statement of the violent abuse she endured and her subsequent cooperation with the police into the crime investigation. They also worked with a psychological expert to develop testimony demonstrating the harm caused to their client by years of abuse culminating in an attempted murder. We learned that the client’s petition was granted shortly after Nathalie joined the clinic as a second law fellow, working with Whitney Bowman and Professor Miriam Marton, in the Tulsa Immigrant Rights Network.

Clinic3Sarah Llewellen (’13) and Nick Major (’13) represented a client from Guatemala and her children in a petition for U non-immigrant status. Nick and Sarah worked with the client to prepare her petition, including preparing a detailed statement from the client describing the abuse she endured, and gathering police reports, court records and medical records as evidence of the crimes committed against her. The students also researched conditions in Guatemala in order to provide evidence to the immigration service that the client and her children could not safely return to Guatemala since they would have no protection against the abuser and his family from ongoing violence and threats. We learned late last semester, almost two years after the petition was filed, that the client and her children had been granted relief.

Late last year, a client from Argentina and her two adult daughters, who were represented by Catie Coulter (’13) in their naturalization petitions, became US citizens. The client came to the clinic more than six years ago for assistance with a petition under the Violence Against Women Act. Since 2008, in addition to Catie Coulter, the family has been represented by clinic students Byron Harvison (’08), Debbie Allen, and Christin Donovan (‘09). Whitney Bowman represented the clients in their interviews last fall and they were sworn in as US citizens, the final step in a long journey in December.

We also received good news about two client matters handled by Anqi Wang (’14) and Matt DeFehr (’13). Anqi and Matt successfully represented a US citizen and a Korean National in a fiancé petition. Over the course of the semester, Matt and Anqi worked with the clients to prepare a petition that would allow the couple to be reunited in the United States in August 2014, where they could be married and the client is now pursuing an application for legal permanent residence. Matt and Angi also represented a client and her teenage son in their applications for permanent residence. The family were long-time clinic clients who had been granted U non-immigrant visas after the son and his father were victims of a carjacking that left his father dead. News that the clients had been granted permanent residence was the end of a long journey for them and a tribute to the hard work and dedication of Matt and Anqi.

Clinic5Three other client families, each represented by a team of clinic students in fall 2013, were granted legal permanent residence in the United States. Each of these families had endured substantial harm and hardship as a result of crimes committed against them. Andrea Smith (’14), Jessica Johnson (’13), Cal McMahon (’14), Sean Waters (’14), Marianela Estrella (’14) and Lorenzo Barcena (’14) worked with these families to prepare their petitions for relief and to help the clients secure lasting protection from harm in the future.

In fall 2014, Jordan Pace (’16) and Ruth Calvillo (’16) successfully represented a client from Mexico in her naturalization interview. The client came to the clinic in 2008 seeking assistance with a VAWA petition in order to escape a horribly abusive marriage. The client had two US citizen children and was desperate to leave her abusive US citizen husband but feared his threats to take her children even more. Over the course of the next 6 years, the clinic worked with the client to get the relief she needed to keep herself and her children safe. In addition to Ruth and Jordan, the client has been represented by former clinic students Samantha Sierakowski (’09), Matt Stewart, Rebekah Guthrie (‘07), and Troy McPherson (’14). Clinic students Margaret Wilson (’16) and Julianne Wisman (’16) joined the client for her naturalization ceremony at the Federal Court in Muskogee a little over a week ago.

Last fall, Stephen Shepherd (’15) successfully represented a client in her adjustment of status interview in Oklahoma City. The client had escaped a violent marriage and come to the clinic seeking protection from her abusive US citizen husband. Clinic student Sara Chronister (’12) worked with the client to prepare and submit applications for relief under the Violence Against Women Act and for U non-immigrant status, including engaging in some creative fact investigation to find proof of the abuser’s US citizenship status. Both petitions were successful and the client became a permanent resident late last year. Stephen also worked with a client who was a victim of an armed robbery and a shooting as he was leaving a check cashing store with his teenage US citizen son. In preparing his client’s petition for U non-immigrant status, Stephen worked closely with the client, his spouse and son, to prepare detailed affidavits describing the incident and its harmful consequences for the family. Stephen also advocated with local police and prosecutors to obtain extensive documentation of the crime and the necessary law enforcement certification of his client’s cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed against him. Over the years, clinic students have worked to help dozens of immigrant crime victims preyed upon by criminals who believed that, because of their undocumented status, they would be too afraid to report the crimes. Once again in this case, as a result of our client’s courage in coming forward and Stephen’s efforts to prepare a successful petition, it becomes a little bit more clear to immigrant families in our community that local law enforcement are here to protect them and the entire community becomes a little safer.

Also last fall, JT Charron (’15) and Andrew Piechocki (’16) worked with a client from India who had been a victim of labor fraud and trafficking to prepare a petition for U non-immigrant status. Working remotely with the client and communicating by phone, email and Skype, the students prepared the client’s petition, including a detailed description of her experiences and the harm she endured as a result. The students also conducted extensive investigation to explore and understand the abusive labor practices to which the client had been subjected. Finally, the students collaborated with a psychological expert in order to arrange a psychological evaluation of the client that would reflect the substantial harm she had suffered.

Clinic4
Tess Davis (’15) and Lacy Kollatz (’15) took responsibility last fall for two very demanding client matters. In one case, the students represented a client from Guatemala who had been victimized by a police officer preying on undocumented immigrants. The client had the courage to come forward and report the crime despite his undocumented status. Among the many challenges presented by this case, the students had difficulty obtaining identification documents for the client’s spouse and children in Guatemala. Tess and Lacy conducted extensive research into the local laws and practices, and interviewed and prepared affidavits from numerous witnesses in order to prove the existence of the client’s marriage and his relationship to his children. As a result, the client was able to include his family in his petition for relief and hopes to be reunited with them in the future.

Tess and Lacy worked with a second client in her VAWA petition. This client came to the clinic after suffering a heartbreaking loss. As is true in many clinic cases, the students had to find a way to work effectively with this client despite the tremendous grief and trauma she was experiencing. Tess and Lacy worked closely with the client to prepare her petition and did a masterful job gathering critical information for the application while showing great compassion and empathy for the client’s circumstances.


Read more about the Immigrant Rights Project