UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law in University Park Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (CIRC) continued to produce impactful work on immigration-related matters in fall 2020. Though operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CIRC was able to: assist in the production of affidavits, country conditions reports, and legal briefs in three asylum cases; prepare a client seeking refugee protection for trial; organize a virtual townhall; develop fact sheets on the proposed immigration rule impacting international students; develop a training module for educators and administrators on immigration; develop a welcoming video with the State College Municipality centered on international students and families; and develop policy recommendations for the incoming Biden administration.
We are proud to present short accounts of the work of CIRC during the fall 2020 semester:
- CIRC assisted Equal Access Legal Services, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit law firm whose mission is to bridge the gap for those individuals or families that fall outside of traditional access to legal services, with three individuals applying for asylum. J.D. students Kristy Davis and Jacob Bies, alongside SIA student Ekrem Korkut, produced a legal brief, comprehensive country conditions reports, exhibit lists, and tables of contents for two asylum cases to be used in court to show the asylum-seekers’ well-founded fear of persecution based on one of the five protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion). These students also interviewed and produced affidavits and witness statements for two asylum cases, which included multiple Zoom meetings with witnesses throughout the semester to produce strong affidavits to be used in court.
Third-year J.D. student Kristy Davis talked about her experience working with Equal Access Legal Services and CIRC: “Meeting with clients and witnesses throughout the semester to discuss their stories and draft their statements for court was an extremely humbling experience as I heard the vulnerable stories that were the root of their decisions to seek asylum here. These stories, coupled with the in-depth research we were doing on the countries that each person seeking asylum was originally from allowed me to truly see the dire circumstances that each person was fleeing from and added even more purpose to the work I was doing in CIRC. Being able to work and serve these vulnerable populations under the supervision of Dean Wadhia was the most impactful and useful experience of my law school career so far."
- CIRC assisted with a withholding of removal case on behalf of the Law Office of Juliette Gomez, which is based in Philadelphia and specializes in removal defense and creative solutions for undocumented and transnational families. J.D. students Bianca Gutierrez, Mikaela Koski, Alexis Castillo, and Jenna Ebersbacher prepared emergency motions, conducted trial preparation, and updated a brief for a noncitizen seeking withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture. These students also assisted with a pro bono Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), an immigrant category that allows qualifying children who are subject to state juvenile court to obtain legal status from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents.
- CIRC assisted the Penn State University Undergraduate Admissions Office in a broad-scale evaluation and assessment of their undergraduate admissions website and the application process for potential immigrant applicants. This evaluation consisted of creating a rubric used to analyze all Big 10 schools’ online presence for inclusivity, diversity, and welcoming for immigrant applicants, and recommending to the Penn State Undergraduate Admissions Office ways in which Penn State could adapt and/or modify their website and applications processes to be more inclusive and welcoming to potential immigrant applicants. This extensive assessment and evaluation culminated in a presentation of findings and recommendations to the director of the Undergraduate Admissions Office.
- CIRC created a welcoming video alongside the State College Municipality, with short clips from Dean Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia and Ekrem Korkut, to show welcoming and inclusivity to all international students that call, have called, or are thinking about calling Penn State home. CIRC also worked on a fact sheet centered on policy changes for international students.
- CIRC developed a training module for educators and administrators within the State College Area School District that covered immigration and inclusive excellence in and throughout K-12 schools.
- CIRC hosted a virtual townhall, with nearly 70 attendees, centered on immigration policies and laws in the incoming Biden administration. They also helped to develop policy recommendations for the new administration.
The Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is a nationally recognized in-house clinic that provides law students with hands-on clinic training in immigration law through three pillars: community outreach and education, pro bono legal support, and policy work. CIRC is directed by its founder, Dean Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, and has been training students for careers in immigration law since 2008.
Advanced clinical student Bianca Gutierrez, looking back on her two semesters in CIRC, noted its impact on her: “As the daughter of an immigrant family, the topics, discussions and issues we raised in the clinic have motivated me more than ever to build a career centered around advocacy and change.”