Blog Entry 13

Posted by David Koelsch
David Koelsch
David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law C
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on Thursday, 20 October 2011
in Faculty Blogs

Maybe a good way to get a glimpse into the life of UDM students enrolled in the Immigration Law Clinic is to look back at the week just past and present a “week in the life” sort of rundown of our work. Some of the highlights from the past week include:

Prepped client from Senegal for two hours for her trial next week.  She has not seen her daughters for nearly two years and broke down several times during the mock trial.  We had to handle her raw emotions and also stress with her that it is very unlikely that she will prevail in her asylum claim due to changed conditions in Senegal, the narrowness of U.S. asylum laws, and the approval rate of the Immigration Judge assigned to her claim.  Learning how to deal with emotional and stressed-out clients is a great skill for law students to develop.

Prepped another client for two hours for his trial next week.  He is from Iraq and made an asylum claim in 1998 and it was denied.  We were able to reopen his claim so he can get a fresh hearing of his claim due to changed threats in Iraq.  The problem is that the client does not remember what he told the Immigration Judge at his last hearing in 1998 so, if he does not keep his story straight, there is a good chance he will lose.  This was a great lesson in lawyering and ethics for the students: the students and I knew what he had told the judge in 1998 because we had the transcript but we could not tell him what to say at his upcoming hearing because that would be unethical.  So, after testing his memory for a time, we sent him home with a copy of the transcript and instructions to study it as if his depended on it – which it does. 

Prepped another client for her trial next week.  This case shows the harsh reality of immigration law.  Our client tried to shoplift a $5.00 picture frame from Kmart in 1988, when she was in the U.S. on a student visa.  She was caught red-handed and turned over to the police.  She admitted her guilt and paid a fine and was on probation for 30 days.  She returned to her home country, finished her education and married.  She and her husband moved to the U.S. when he took a job with a U.S. company and they were in the U.S. on employment visas.  She had two children in the U.S., her husband advanced in his career and was a very valuable employee and she and her husband decided they would like to stay in the U.S. and raise their family here and eventually become citizens.  When they filed for their green cards, she forgot to disclose the shoplifting conviction from 22 years ago.  Even her husband was not aware of it but the Immigration officer accused her of immigration fraud and ordered her deported.  She has an appeal pending before the Immigration Judge but, all because of an innocent mistake, she and her family – including her U.S. citizen children – can have their lives completely uprooted.  Sometimes it seems too easy for anti-immigrant activists to call for the deportation of any immigrant who commits a crime when, in this case as in many others, deportation far exceeds any justifiable punishment for a lack of judgment. 

Trained employees of the Chaldean Federation of America how to screen people for eligibility to become permanent residents.  Four students and I described the process and various forms involved and advised them of the traps and tricks.  I find that requiring students to train others how to handle legal issues helps the students to learn the process fully and also make students feel confident in their legal skills.

This is just a short snippet of a few of our activities from the past week.  Next week is another busy one with nine two-hour client meetings, three half-day trials, two short court appearances, two appellate briefs to file, and one half-day outreach in SW Detroit.  Busy is good. 

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About the author

David Koelsch

David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law Clinic and the Asylum Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The Immigration Law Clinic represents immigrants on a variety of legal issues, including abandoned immigrant children and abused immigrant women. Professor Koelsch also teaches U.S. Immigration Law and a comparative U.S.-Canada Immigration Law course as well as a Seminar on Spirituality and the Law. Koelsch was named the 2009 Outstanding Immigration Law Professor by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.