Colorado Law Students Receive ‘Powerful’ Lessons Offering Free Immigrant Legal Services | Colorado Law

This story was originally published by The World on May 12, 2022. It is reproduced here with permission.

By Stephanie Daniel

María Teresa Navas Mejía, a longtime employee at the University of Colorado at Boulder, recently received her green card thanks to Carina De La Torre and students at the law school’s Immigration Advocacy Clinic.

Credit: Stéphanie Daniel/Le Monde

Violeta Chapin, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, standing next to a projector, showed her students several images of different immigrant groups on the US southern border, as well as refugees fleeing Ukraine.

“There are some really striking visual differences between the treatment of refugees from Ukraine and the treatment we’ve seen of refugees, primarily from Latin America and Haiti, over the past few years, but also over the past few months,” she said. .

This class is part of the Law School’s Immigration Advocacy Clinic. It is one of nine clinics at the University of Boulder that allows students to gain hands-on experience representing clients. They provide free legal services to immigrants in the community. Some students themselves come from immigrant families.

Chapin, who was born in Costa Rica, is the director of the clinic.

“Immigrants, if they want a lawyer – and many of them do and need a lawyer – they have to pay shocking amounts for an immigration lawyer. Many of them simply cannot afford it.

Violeta Chapin, University of Colorado, Professor of Law

“Immigrants, if they want a lawyer – and many of them do and need a lawyer – they have to pay shocking amounts for an immigration lawyer,” she said. “A lot of them just can’t afford it.”

One of Chapin’s students, Larrisa Alire, who is in her second year of law school, said she has been passionate about immigration rights since she was a teenager.

“My high school was [about] 90% Latino, and a lot of my peers were undocumented, and they really didn’t find out they were undocumented until we were, you know, old enough to get our first job, and you realize that you don’t have a social security number,” she said.

Migrant rights are complex. But just like her classmates, Alire learned a lot during the one-year course. Since last fall, students have helped nearly 139 clients renew their status with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama administration law that allowed young people who came to United States as children to stay in the country.


Immigration Defense Clinic students Larrisa Alire and Marina Fleming, sophomores at the University of Colorado Law School, offer free legal services to immigrants. Credit: Courtesy of Larrisa Alire and Marina Fleming

Students also work under Chapin’s supervision and license, allowing them to assist in criminal cases.

“This semester I had a criminal immigration case and my client was a lawful permanent resident charged with misdemeanors,” Alire said.

The clinic has also represented more than 20 long-time university employees from El Salvador, who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows them to work.

Students help them become permanent residents. This includes María Teresa Navas Mejía, who has worked at the university for 23 years. She is a housekeeper in the dorms and said she loves her job.

Navas Mejía obtained his green card last August.

“I feel so happy. When they told me that they were going to give me my residence, I just cried because, for me, it was a great achievement,” Navas Mejía said in Spanish.

Carina De La Torre translated for her. De La Torre is a recent Colorado Law School graduate and Chapin’s alumnus. She now works at the university as a clinical racial justice fellow at law clinics. She plans to call the bar in July and pursue immigration work with a nonprofit.

“My parents are immigrants. I have a lot of undocumented family members, and I just saw how unfair and unfair our immigration system is.

Carina De La Torre, University of Colorado Law School graduate

“My parents are immigrants,” she said. “I have a lot of undocumented family members, and I’ve just seen how unfair and unfair our immigration system is.”

One of his main tasks is working with TPS holders, like Navas Mejía, who often works in the catering and childcare services at the university.

“These employees are part of our community. their children [are] students here at CU [University of Colorado],” she said. “They own houses. They go to the same schools where the teachers have their children.

Professor Violeta Chapin

Violeta Chapin, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law and director of the Immigration Defense Clinic, helped college employee Irma Bernard become a naturalized US citizen. Credit: Stéphanie Daniel/Le Monde

The school supports the clinic, said Patrick O’Rourke, executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer of the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus.

“It’s also important for us to be able to have a workforce that knows that if there’s a need, we’ll try to be able to respond to that need and protect them,” he said. .

The clinic is a valuable way for students to learn, he said, while serving the university’s larger mission: to advance humanity.

“Part of what we need to be able to do is understand the challenges that undocumented workers face and be able to recognize their rights and invest in our students so that we can make the world a fairer place,” said he continued.

For sophomore Marina Fleming, her work with the clinic has underscored the importance of immigration law.

“It allows you to see all of the doors that may be open to you as a practitioner and how many doors you can potentially open for other people who are navigating a number of immigration issues in their lives.”

The first-generation student said the clinic was her favorite part of law school. It makes learning real.

“To be able to go to court and just talk to a judge and feel what it feels like to stand up, to assert your voice, not for yourself, but on behalf of another person is powerful,” she said. declared.

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