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immigrants

TU Law students counsel immigrants detained by ICE

Across the country today, there are approximately 55,000 non-citizen immigrants being detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) directorate. A number of those people are in custody in the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center at the Tulsa County Jail. Earlier this summer, the four students who took part in The University of Tulsa College of Law’s Summer Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) met with and provided assistance to some of these detainees.

“This was an intense, six-week legal clinic for the students,” remarked the IRP’s director Mimi Marton. “Among the things they witnessed were young people returned to countries where they have not lived since they were infants. They saw elderly people returned despite living in the U.S. as productive members of society for decades. They encountered people removed and separated from their families for minor offenses, despite having paid their debts to society. And they all had to learn how to deliver bad news to detainees and their families.”

One of the IRP students was rising 3L student MaryJoy Chuba. Herself an immigrant to the United States and now a naturalized citizen, Chuba commented on how “the IRP clinic has done so much for me. One of the major benefits has been to build my self-esteem with regard to public speaking. But beyond that, I learned so many details about the immigration system that I wouldn’t have known about solely from the classroom.”

Fellow student Jared Cannon, who is pursuing a joint JD and MBA degree, echoed Chuba’s words but also underscored the affective dimension: “The experience of going into the jail and meeting with ICE detainees is real – real emotional. The first time I went into the jail I had a little bravado. I was self-confident, and I didn’t expect it to impact me in the ways it did. The experience expands your mind, heart and soul. It’s something you’ll never experience in any other part of your law school life.”

Immigrant Rights Project clinic students Jared Cannon, MaryJoy Chuba and Anthony Agostino (not pictured: Sarah Young)
L-R: Jared Cannon, MaryJoy Chuba, Anthony Agostino

Preparation and deployment

While the IRP experience tested the students’ emotional and professional mettle, the first third of the clinic had introduced them to the critical knowledge and skills to help deal with what they would face during the final four. For two weeks, the students studied immigration law and developed techniques and approaches for interviewing clients.

Beginning in week 3, the students began deploying what they had learned by going into the Moss Criminal Justice Center and holding consultations with ICE detainees. Some of the detainees were local Tulsa residents, while many were from across the U.S. Some people had been detained for traffic violations, others were facing serious criminal charges and a number were recent arrivals seeking asylum in the U.S.

Molly Bryant is a social worker with DVIS and she spends several days a week in the Tulsa County Jail working with asylum seekers detained by ICE. “I feel a sense of calm,” she said, “knowing that TU Law students are available to provide direction to my clients and answer questions that I am ill-equipped to provide.” Bryant underscored the importance of the IRP students’ assistance: “My clients are often extremely isolated at the detention center, and they rarely have the financial means to pay for representation. Many have disregarded the idea that they’d ever find a lawyer they could afford, who would understand their situation and who would really fight for them.”

Consulting, advising, advocating, counseling

Among the IRP students’ main activities at the David L. Moss Center were holding consultations with detainees to understand their individual circumstances, counseling clients on their various options and advocating with ICE officers. According to Marton, “they also had to learn how to respect a client’s decision when such a choice seemed different than one the student him/herself would have made.”

As an example of the latter, Marton points to the fact that several clients asked to be returned to their country of origin – not because that country was safe but because the person could no longer psychologically tolerate being incarcerated. “This was particularly challenging to the students when a client actually qualified for some sort of immigration relief or when a client had been on the receiving end of some less-than-stellar lawyering.” That situation sometimes arose when a criminal defense attorney had failed to advise a client about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty.

“Working in the clinic made me more empathetic,” Cannon said. “But it also gave me a deeper understanding of the current state of immigration, the related laws and the archaic nature of the processes detainees confront.” In terms of skills development, Cannon believes the clinic experience made him a better counselor: “A lawyer is a counselor. But in the classroom, you don’t get to develop that part of the profession. You don’t get the face time with clients that will be necessary in your practice. But you will get it in the IRP, and it will make you a better lawyer.”

Language and lifesaving

Some of the detainees with whom the IRP students consulted spoke English. Most, however, did not. As a result, the students had to learn how to use interpreters when interviewing clients. “This lawyering skill,” Marton emphasized, “takes some sophistication to do successfully.”

“Quite honestly,” commented Bryant, “providing consultations in a client’s native language breaks down their feeling of isolation and begins to heal their souls.”

Linda Allegro was one of the interpreters with whom the students worked at the Tulsa County Jail. In addition to being a Spanish-language interpreter, she is also the project director for New Sanctuary Network | Tulsa. Allegro spoke of how much she enjoyed collaborating with the IRP participants, noting that “it meant the world to the detainees to have a professional and friendly face visit them, listen to their sorrows and offer legal assistance. They were so grateful to know that somebody could advocate or mediate on their behalf.

“Seeing an actual person in a contact visit in the consultation room offered the much-needed human contact and warmth that keeps these men hanging on. I believe that providing them with legal guidance is, quite literally, a lifesaving experience.”

Anthony Agostino, Professor Robin Sherman, MaryJoy Chuba, Jared Cannon, Professor Mimi Marton
L-R: Anthony Agostino, Professor Robin Sherman, MaryJoy Chuba, Jared Cannon, Professor Mimi Marton (not pictured: Sarah Young)

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked TU Law’s clinical education program #74 in the nation. It’s one of the reasons TU Law is a Top 100 law school. If you are contemplating a career as a lawyer, TU Law’s clinics will prepare you with a combination of real-world experience, intensive supervision and dynamic seminars.

International access-to-justice and human rights expert joins TU Law

The University of Tulsa College of Law community is thrilled to welcome Roni Amit as an assistant clinical professor and the director of its Terry West Civil Legal Clinic, which is made possible through a generous grant from the Sarkeys Foundation. Amit joined TU Law on August 1, 2019, and she will spend her first semester planning the shape and direction of the college’s newest addition to its clinical education program.

“My colleagues and I are very pleased to welcome Roni Amit to the TU College of Law,” said Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “Under her leadership, I believe the Terry West clinic will offer an enriching learning experience for our students while addressing important legal needs in the community.”

Amit will be bringing with her a wealth of experience and energy. Since 2017, she has been a clinical fellow in the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra University School of Law, where she worked with immigrant communities on Long Island. Amit’s scholarship focuses on rights protection, administrative processes and the efficacy of public interest litigation, and she has been extensively involved in research and advocacy in the areas of access to justice and human rights in the United States, Israel and South Africa.

“Sarkeys is very excited to partner with Roni Amit for the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic at the University of Tulsa College of Law,” said Kim Henry, the Sarkeys Foundation’s executive director. “Roni has all the credentials we were looking for in a person to run this very worthwhile program. We are thrilled to welcome her to Oklahoma and look forward to working with her and assisting in what will be many years of success in improving the lives of Oklahomans.”

Getting acquainted

In order to get to know our new colleague better, we recently had a wide-ranging chat about Amit’s view of clinical education programs, her hopes for the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic and what she’s looking forward to about living here in Oklahoma. Here are our questions and Amit’s thoughtful responses.

What roles do law schools’ legal clinics/clinical education programs play in training JD students and in serving the community?

“Legal clinics have an important social justice role to play within the community. By engaging with the community on multiple levels, clinics can serve individual clients and also advocate for broader structural reforms that advance social justice, pursuing advocacy both inside and outside of the courtroom.

“In addition to developing concrete lawyering skills, for me, one of the most important aspects of clinical legal education is the opportunity it provides students to see how the law works outside of the classroom. Students are exposed to the role of the law in the lives of marginalized communities, which may be very different from how it is represented in the classroom and in case law.

“Legal clinics also give students the chance to work with individuals whose life experiences may be very different from their own and to think about their role as lawyers, about the lawyering process, and about how best to advocate for their clients by understanding the law within the broader context of poverty, discrimination, and the power dynamics underpinning the law.”

What are you looking forward to accomplishing as director of the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic? What is your vision for this clinic?

“My vision for the clinic is to make justice real for marginalized people. The promise and potential of legal rights often remain inaccessible to those lacking political and economic capital. I hope to develop the clinic and TU Law as an integral part of the community and an important resource for community members in accessing their legal rights.

“This engagement will also teach students to actively use the law as an instrument for social change. I envision the clinic engaging with issues affecting the community through a range of advocacy strategies building on local dynamics to find the most effective mechanisms for individual and structural change. By fostering increased student and community engagement with the legal system, the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic will empower community members to use the law to overcome legacies of exclusion and discrimination, while exposing students to the ways in which these legacies interact with the legal system.”

You live and work on the east coast and you received your doctorate on the west coast. What’s drawing you to come live and work down here in the southern Heartland? What are you looking forward to professionally and personally from this big move and lifestyle change?

“My experience in the U.S., South Africa and elsewhere taught me both the integral role that local dynamics play in driving social change and the importance of bringing local priorities into national campaigns. I hope to use my background and experiences to build coalitions that ensure that the experiences of Tulsa’s marginalized communities are reflected in local and national campaigns. I am looking forward to joining Tulsa’s dynamic activist community and complementing their important social justice work.

“On a personal level, I am excited to trade in my Brooklyn apartment and daily three-hour commute for a house with a yard – and maybe even a dog. I am also looking forward to exploring Tulsa’s parks and vibrant culture.”

TU Law: Committed to public service

At TU Law, we believe in instilling a lifelong commitment to public service by providing opportunities for students, faculty and staff to volunteer with community-based organizations that address unmet legal needs and give back to our neighbors. Over the past year, our members contributed 3,752 pro bono and public service hours as well as 16,485 legal clinic hours

TU Law students support immigrants seeking asylum in Texas

A team of 16 TU law and psychology students traveled to Karnes City, Texas, this summer to help provide legal support to women and children seeking asylum in the United States.

The Karnes City family detention center, which detains women and children seeking asylum in the U.S., can best be described as chaotic. A coordinated effort between GEO, the private prison company that owns the detention center, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the detention center at Karnes City is a stressful first step to seeking asylum.

The team from The University of Tulsa — clinical law Professor Mimi Marton; psychology Professor Elana Newman; psychology doctoral student Chelsea Shotwell Tabke; the legal fellow for the Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network, Robin Sherman; 16 law students; and three law students that were originally assigned as interpreters — went on the service-learning trip to provide legal assistance to the women detained there.

The Credible Fear Interview

In Karnes, the students prepared the female detainees for their Credible Fear Interview (CFI). A CFI is a first-screening to determine whether a detainee will be able to present a viable asylum case in U.S. immigration court. To pass the screening, a woman must prove that she has a credible fear of being sent back to her country. If she doesn’t pass the screening, she can have a CFI review by an immigration judge, but if she still doesn’t pass, then she is likely to be deported.

The CFI requires one to relive horrendous encounters. Clients hailed from all over the world but mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The students learned that one of the biggest factors driving these families out of their countries was incredible gang violence. “These are countries in which, as one woman from El Salvador told us, ‘The gangs control my country,’ and that is really true from the top government position down to the local police force,” said Marton. The other common problem they saw was women fleeing domestic violence, where they reported that there was no mechanism in their country through which they could seek protection from their abuser.

In addition to preparing clients for the CFI, the TU team also conducted intake interviews with women who had just arrived in Karnes, prepared advocacy briefs, searched for sponsors to whom the families could be released, and led informational sessions on the next steps after release from the detention center. By the end of their five days, they had served more than 200 detainees.

Dealing with the trauma

Interviewing traumatized clients can be hard and emotional work, which is why TU’s Psychology Department was included. Newman and Tabke were responsible for providing psychological support for both the clients and the TU team. Some of their everyday tasks included assisting the law students in conducting trauma-informed interviews, providing crisis intervention for distressed clients and helping mitigate the legal team’s vicarious traumatization. “Most lawyers are trained to work with clients who are more advantaged, and not who are in captivity,” said Newman on training the law students for the interviews.

Stephen Yoder, one of the law students who went on the trip, said the most challenging part of being in Karnes City was hearing the stories. “These women and children had faced a lot of abuse or a lot of legitimate fear in their home countries,” he said. “It really took a toll on us as a group.”

Marton points out that these experiences are necessary to teach the students the importance of pro bono legal work. “Oftentimes the idea of giving back gets lost in the busy day of a lawyer,” said Marton. “This project highlighted two issues: one, some of the massive injustices that we see in immigration law today; and two, the important role that lawyers can play in resolving those injustices.”

The importance of Karnes City experience

Trips like the one to Karnes City are invaluable to students.

“Something that I think maybe I didn’t do enough while I was in law school was actually getting real-life client interviewing experience,” Sherman said. Interviewing clients like the ones in the Karnes City family detention center gives students the perspective that these people are more than just legal cases. “If you don’t work with the non-legal issues that your client presents, you won’t be successful at the legal representation. It really is opening their eyes beyond the silo of being a lawyer and how important it is to gain other skills,” said Marton.

Law student Jose Gonzalez found something more than just legal experience. “I learned compassion and empathy. I learned that everyone is a real person and that they have real emotions, that they went through very, very hard things in their lives and they’re just trying to find some help,” he said.

TU will be returning to Karnes City Detention Center in the future under the program with RAICES. To learn more about TU Law’s Immigrant Rights Project, click here.

 

 

TU Law graduate serves immigrant community

University of Tulsa College of Law alumna Rebekah L. Guthrie-Frisby is serving Tulsa’s immigrant community by quelling fears and filing for legal documentation of citizenship.

In a Tulsa Business & Legal News article, Guthrie-Frisby said, “Part of my role as a private attorney is to control rumors and fears that cause people to panic. Things have calmed down a little since President Donald Trump has taken office because there hasn’t been much action yet from the administration.”

Guthrie-Frisby went on to say that many immigrants sat back for several years because of costs but are now petitioning for qualified family members who are coming into the U.S. or already here. They are eager to have documents filed. In fact, Guthrie-Frisby hired additional staff to help with the workload.

During her time at TU, Guthrie-Frisby worked at the College of Law’s Boesche Legal Clinic to help Burmese refugees fleeing their country. It is her hope that, “Trump eventually would surround himself with people knowledgeable about immigration, and courts would uphold the law regarding the Constitution and immigrant rights.”

Learn more about TU Law’s Boesche Clinic and how to receive a highly personalized legal education at TU Law.