The University of Connecticut’s law school is offering free legal consultation services to help Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and immigrants who have been detained or are seeking asylum.
“(This clinic is) dealing with some of the most pressing current immigration issues,” program director and law professor Jon Bauer said. “It’s providing a much-needed service for people right now who have had a modicum of protection under the DACA program… but now are facing a very uncertain and difficult situation.”
The Immigration Detention and DACA Clinic is a class at the law school that allows students to receive hands-on experience helping immigrants renew their DACA status or work through other paths to stay in the country legally, Bauer said.
“When you start to help people with no other option, you really understand what it is like to be an attorney,” second-year law student Jesse King said in a UConn Today article. “With the uncertainty of the DACA program, our clients don’t even know their status for the next couple of weeks. You have to distance yourself from the political climate.”
Students who don’t go on to practice immigration law can still find the program to be a useful experience in preparing to practice law outside of school, Bauer said.
“It gives them the opportunity while they’re still law students to intensively do all the things lawyers do in practice,” Bauer said. “They get to do that in a setting where they are supervised…they meet with a faculty supervisor to reflect on it (their work) and think critically about [it].”
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought forth by the Trump Administration to overturn injunctions by two lower federal courts that allow the DACA program to remain in effect for the time being.
“The injunctions… could disappear at any point. But as long as those injunctions are in effect they are of great benefit to people who have DACA to renew their applications,” Bauer said.
However, the courts’ injunctions are based only on how the program was set to be rescinded, not the action itself. This means the injunctions are a temporary and unstable protection, Bauer said.
“They left open the possibility that if the administration does it differently they could still validly rescind the DACA program,” Bauer said. “So even with this decision there is a lot of uncertainty about how long the DACA program will remain in effect.”
The clinic is also working with the Immigrant Protection Project of Western Massachusetts. The effort is run by the American Civil Liberties Union out of Greenfield, Massachusetts. The detention center in Greenfield is where most immigrants who are picked up by ICE agents in Connecticut are sent, Bauer said.
Bauer said under the Trump administration’s directives, there has been an upswing in immigrants being detained. The clinic helps get people released from detainment by persuading a judge to set a bond for them. Those who have been detained have a much more difficult time being granted asylum, Bauer said.
The clinic also works with RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) in Texas. RAICES works with people to help determine if they have a reasonable basis for seeking asylum in the U.S. by setting up interviews with asylum officers.
“If they make it through that process successfully, then they will be able to stay and pursue a claim for asylum here,” Bauer said. “If they don’t, they can be very quickly sent back to their home country, where many of them face the risk of severe harm.”
Anna Cabot, the co-director of the program, led a spring break trip to a detention center in York, Pennsylvania, Bauer said. Participants, which included law students, worked with asylum seekers to prepare their applications.
“Even though the asylum seekers will ultimately be representing themselves… that one week of work helping them prepare their asylum applications and supporting evidence can greatly increase their chances of getting asylum and being able to remain in the United States,” Bauer said.
Last year, students worked with 10 clients over spring break. The students helped the asylum seekers fill out detailed applications and put together evidence with documentation of their circumstances, including the conditions in their country of origin. Seven of these people had asylum claim hearings, and five were granted asylum, Bauer said.
“Having the benefit of the work the students did with them made a huge difference, even though they ultimately represented themselves at their hearing,” Bauer said.
Bauer said the high cost of legal representation for immigration cases is often an obstacle many people facing deportation cannot overcome. People facing deportation do not have a legal right to a state-sponsored attorney that those facing criminal charges do.
“There is a pressing need for legal representation that’s not being fully met,” Bauer said.
Findings by the American Immigration Council found that among detained immigrants, those who had legal representation were more than twice as likely to receive immigration relief than those who did not.
The Law School also has an Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, in which students fully represent people seeking asylum in the United States. The program has run most semesters since 2002, Bauer said. Since then, of the 133 cases, 124 clients were granted asylum. This compares to a general acceptance rate of around 30 percent, Bauer said.
“It shows what a difference having representation can make,” Bauer said.