David Koelsch's Blog
"Life's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." This is a somewhat dated reference but the immortal lines uttered by Forrest Gump could equally be applied to work in the Immigration Law Clinic. At least once each week, students leave the Law School to go out into the community to meet with real people and try to see if we can fix their legal issues. Last night, we were out in Southwest Detroit at a local nonprofit agency.
We split into two groups and, in a respectful and confidential manner, talked with people about a wide range of topics, from the disabled Cuban gentleman who is trying to get a Social Security card, to the man with a green card who was nervous about taking the citizenship test because he does not think his English is good enough (despite that our entire conversation was conducted in near-flawless English!), and the undocumented woman in an abusive relationship with a drug addict.
Sadly, we could help the Cuban get a Social Security card and the other man to become a citizen but there was nothing we could do to help the woman who was abused. She is undocumented, as is her abuser, and the law does not allow her to gain any immigration relief unless the abuser has a green card or is a citizen. This is an insane law that basically allows undocumented immigrants to beat their partners with impunity. Try explaining that to a woman in an abusive relationship and then, in the same breath, tell her to maintain her dignity and to remain hopeful.
On the way out last night, one of my students who took my Immigration Law class which, unlike the clinic, is a traditional lecture class, turned to me and said "Now I know where you got all of those crazy questions on your exams -- you just changed the names but kept the facts from people served by the clinic!" My cover was blown! I fessed up and admitted it but then he added that, while he struggled with the questions in a classroom setting, now that he is working as a student-attorney, he understands why I use exam questions drawn from real life and he is grateful to see his academic and practical skills being put to use.
And that's what clinic is all about. It's nothing more or less than a real-life exercise in applying legal knowledge in a humane, empathic and intelligible way to serve others. And that's what UDM Law is all about: core knowledge, practical skills, and service.