Students spend Spring Break in court fighting for immigrants

While many of their faculty and student colleagues were enjoying sun or snow, Professor Won Kidane and the students from Seattle University School of Law's Immigration Law Clinic were hard at work in Immigration Court, fighting to prevent the deportation of three clients. Because of the students' efforts, two of the clients will not be deported. The third still faces that possibility, but the clinic is continuing to fight on his behalf.

The hearings - held on three days during the law school's Spring Break - were the first such hearings ever handled by Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic students. The school has run an Immigration Clinic for many years, but Professor Kidane has redirected and enlarged the clinic's activity to include the cases of clients at risk of deportation.

One client, a Cambodian refugee in his mid-'20s who arrived in the United States with his family when he was 2, was awarded cancellation of removal, which entitles him to remain in the country. He should be able to apply to become a naturalized citizen in a few years.

Another client, a Ukrainian refugee who has also lived in the United States for a long time, received a form of relief known as withholding of removal. Unlike the first client, he is not eligible to become a citizen, but he is lawfully entitled to remain in the United States. Professor Kidane reports that this form of relief is perhaps the most difficult for an asylee to obtain.

The court denied the clinic's request for cancellation of removal in a third case, so that client still faces the prospect of deportation. However, the clinic intends to seek reconsideration and perhaps an appeal of this ruling. The client will be able to remain in the country until the matter is conclusively resolved.

The Clinic students found the cases to be emotionally demanding but highly rewarding.

"Because the potential consequence, deportation, was so severe, this was an extremely challenging and stressful experience," said Jeffrey Keddie a third-year student who represented the client from Cambodia. "We were aware at all times that the quality of our preparation would likely determine the outcome. And without the support of our client's family and friends, our client may have been deported. We are thankful for their assistance, and excited that our client will be able to help raise his 2-year-old son and support his family."

The students filed pretrial briefs, delivered opening statements and closing arguments, and conducted examinations of numerous witnesses. In cases such as this, the government often relies primarily on documents that establish a prima facie case for removal. The petitioner has the opportunity to present evidence to make the case for why he should be allowed to remain anyway.

Such arguments are often built upon the testimony of relatives, employers, and others who can describe the contributions the petitioner has made and can make to his family and community. In the weeks leading up to the hearings, students spent many hours driving around the region or on telephone calls, preparing the witnesses so they would be able to present the most compelling story on behalf of their client.

The Immigration Law Clinic is one of 13 courses offered by the law clinic that give students the opportunity to gain legal experience representing real clients.

"Working in this clinic has taught me so much about being an effective lawyer," said Kati Ortiz, also a 3L. "I appreciate the exposure to this particular population and now see the great need for good immigration attorneys willing to do deportation defense."

Seattle University Fountain