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Immigration Clinic

Through the Immigration Clinic at Western State, students have the opportunity to do exactly what lawyers do in practice – represent real clients in real matters. Throughout the process, students receive close guidance and supervision from the Clinic Director, Professor Jennifer Lee Koh, who formerly taught at the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic; Professor Sabrina Rivera, Clinic Staff Attorney; and Professor Andrew Knapp, whose nonprofit Immigrant Access to Justice Assistance routinely handles Ninth Circuit deportation appeals on a pro bono basis.

The Western State Immigration Clinic is a five-credit, one-semester course that provides students with hands-on skills training while responding to the pressing needs of immigrants in Orange County. Under faculty supervision, students represent immigrants who cannot otherwise afford legal representation before Citizenship and Immigration Services and in Immigration Court. In addition to their casework, students attend a weekly two-hour seminar focusing on lawyering skills and substantive immigration law.

Each student serves as his or her client’s primary representative. Under faculty supervision, the students interview the clients, investigate and gather facts, research the relevant law, draft briefs and affidavits, file applications for relief and supporting documentation, and represent clients in immigration interviews and in court. Since 2011, the Clinic has represented dozens of clients who have overcome experiences of domestic violence, human trafficking, persecution in their home countries, and sexual assault. The Clinic also collaborates with community-based organizations to protect and promote the rights of noncitizens in Orange County.

In 2016, the Immigration Clinic expanded to include representation before the prestigious Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its first year, Ninth Circuit Project students Alfonso Maldonado and Cristel Martinez briefed and argued their client’s case before the federal appeals court, resulting in a favorable decision in Beltran v. Sessions, __ Fed. Appx. __ , 2017 WL 1857293 (9th Cir. May 8, 2017).  A video of their oral argument can be viewed here:  http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000011314.

The Clinic has taken a leading role in providing services to young people who came to the U.S. as children and has engaged in various community education efforts. As the primary advocates for their clients, students gain experience that translates into many areas of legal practice, including:

  • First-hand legal advocacy, under the direct supervision of an experienced faculty member.
  • Feedback from others and self-reflection, through the use of techniques and technology that encourage self-critique and peer review.
  • Practical lawyering skills, such as interviewing and counseling, fact investigation, case planning, legal research and writing, witness examination, and oral advocacy.
  • The opportunities to learn about their strengths and areas of growth and to develop their own professional values and goals.

In June 2017, the Clinic released, “Protecting and Planning for Children:  A Family Resource Guide for Orange County, CA Families at Risk of Deportation and Detention.” This resource guide, authored by Clinic students Nathalie Cedeno and Alizabeth Ramirez, is designed to provide information for immigrant families who wish to make arrangements for their children to remain in the U.S. in the event that they are subjected to immigration detention and deportation.  The guide specifically discusses Caregiver Authorization Affidavits, powers of attorney, and guardianships in the State of California.  The guide is available for download here.

WHAT DO STUDENTS SAY ABOUT THEIR CLINIC EXPERIENCE?

"Law school classes teach you how to deconstruct and critically analyze issues. The Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic takes those skills and allows you the opportunity to apply them in a practical setting. The clinic, for me, has been the most rewarding and illuminating experience in law school. It allowed me the platform to help my community and, simultaneously, grow as a legal advocate. As a student attorney in the clinic, I worked on legal advocacy projects helping the immigrant community, I worked on case planning and management, I conducted client and witness interviews, I prepared court filings, I practiced my legal writing, and I successfully represented two clients, in two different matters, before Immigration Judges in Immigration court. I will forever be grateful for my experience and growth in the clinic."

Nathalie Cedeno
Class of 2018

“In the clinic, law was no longer this abstract concept I was reading from a book. I was given a client whose life was in my hands. She stood before me with tears in her eyes as she told me her story and her dreams of a better future. We were the key to completely transforming her life, and we had to figure out how to ensure that the law was on her side. Even when the odds were against us, we had to remain vigilant to ensure that our client got the justice she deserved. There is no greater feeling than having your client run into your arms, tears in her eyes, after being released from a six-month detention. As she clung to my arm with joy, I realized that this is what it’s all about: Ensuring that the goal of law is justice for those that would otherwise be lost. This moment will live with me forever, and will be the reminder of why I wanted to become an attorney.”

Stephanie Barrera
Class of 2019

"Classrooms teach you the law and how think critically. The Clinic teaches you how to work compassionately with clients and about the impact you can have on your community."

Angel Lalama
Class of 2014

"Western State's Immigration Clinic is a wonderful opportunity to practically apply immigration laws and hone critical thinking and writing skills while actually making a difference in the lives of non-citizens. The Clinic was the highlight of my law school experience, and through it I was able to meet amazing people, actually help an underserved population, and grow not only as a law student, but also as a person."

Kristalyn Bautista
Class of 2014

Immigration Clinic Students Argue Before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Immigration Clinic Students Argue Before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

On Friday, April 13, 2018, Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic students Greyson Morain and Gabrielle Gilbertson argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Greyson and Gabrielle, along with classmate Jennifer Pyka, are enrolled in the Immigration Clinic’s Ninth Circuit Project, and have been representing their client, Machjay Yagao, in a petition before the Ninth Circuit since the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year. Earlier in the year, they research and wrote opening and reply briefs to the court. The case, Yagao v. Sessions, involves the intersection of criminal and immigration law.

A video of their oral argument is available here:  A video of their oral argument is available here: https://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000013556.  

The students were directly supervised by Professor Andrew Knapp (WSCL ’95), adjunct professor with the Immigration Clinic.

Immigration Clinic Resilience OC

Immigration Clinic Receives Community Justice Award by Resilience OC

On February 8, 2018, the Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic, led by Professor Jennifer Koh and Sabrina Rivera, was presented with the Community Justice Award by Resilience OC, in recognition of its efforts to help safeguard the due process rights of Santa Ana and Orange County residents.

Resilience is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that has collaborated with the Clinic on immigration advocacy, community outreach and social justice campaigns in Orange County.

Western State Logo Seal

Western State Immigration Clinic Releases Family Resource Guide

In June 2017, the Clinic released, “Protecting and Planning for Children: A Family Resource Guide for Orange County, CA Families at Risk of Deportation and Detention.”

This resource guide, authored by Clinic students Nathalie Cedeno and Alizabeth Ramirez, is designed to provide information for immigrant families who wish to make arrangements for their children to remain in the U.S. in the event that they are subjected to immigration detention and deportation.  The guide specifically discusses Caregiver Authorization Affidavits, powers of attorney, and guardianships in the State of California.  The guide is available for download here.

Alfonso and Cristel

WSCL Immigration Clinic Students Alfonso Maldonado and Cristel Martinez Win Ninth Circuit Remand

On April 4, 2017, Alfonso Maldonado (’17) and Cristel Martinez (’17) became the first pair of Western State College of Law students to argue before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as students participating in the WSCL Immigration Clinic’s Ninth Circuit Project. Representing noncitizen Juan Beltran in his petition before the federal appeals court in Beltran v. Sessions, No. 16-70937, Alfonso and Cristel had researched and written Mr. Beltran’s opening brief in the fall, followed by a reply brief in the spring. They argued that their client’s waiver of his right to appeal an immigration judge’s order of removal against him was not considered and intelligent because the immigration judge had failed to properly advise Mr. Beltran of his eligibility for certain forms of relief from removal, and had also argued that the federal regulation addressing the finality of his order of removal was ultra vires of the federal immigration statute.

On May 8, 2017, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in the case.  The court agreed with Alfonso and Cristel’s argument regarding the validity of their client’s waiver of his right to an appeal and remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Prof. Andrew Knapp (a WSCL alum) supervised Alfonso and Cristel’s excellent work on behalf of Mr. Beltran.  Congratulations to Alfonso and Cristel!

A video of the oral argument is available here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000011314.


Gilbertson,Gabrielle

WSCL Student Publishes Op-Ed on Immigration and Law School

Western State College of Law student Gabrielle Gilberston has published an op-ed entitled, “How Law School Changed My Views on Immigration,” in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, a regional newspaper based in her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska. In the op-ed, she describes how her work representing a client through the WSCL Immigration Clinic challenged her views on immigration. Writes Gilberston, “Although I wasn’t passionate about immigration [at the beginning of the semester], the more I learned about my client’s life, the more I began feeling passionately about the injustices my client faced in immigration detention.”

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