Chopra ’23 Assists City with Migrant Welcome Plan

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How do immigrants in a city like Albany settle into their new home in the Capital Region?

Thanks in part to Albany Law School’s Kaitlynn Chopra ’23, they will soon have greater access to resource management and information about their rights.

Chopra – in her third semester with the Immigration Law Clinic (ILC)– has seen the challenges immigrants face when they first settle into the region.

Kaitlynn Chopra ’23

During her first two semesters with the ILC, she worked with a client to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa and a green card, while also supporting some of the ILC’s longer term clients. While representing her clients through the immigration process, she noticed that they were sometimes unsure of their rights or how to access basic resources like a driver’s license or public transit.  

For the past two semesters, Chopra has worked alongside Professor Sarah Rogerson, director of the ILC, and Professor Lauren DesRosiers, a senior staff attorney in the ILC, to synthesize and streamline resource management and referrals for immigrants in the Albany area.

Chopra recently presented the proposal alongside Mayor Kathy Sheehan at the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government’s Local Government Lab. Back in 2017, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan ’94 had designated Albany as a sanctuary city to shield Albany’s immigrants from aggressive enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“It was frightening. We have a very large refugee population in the city of Albany and in this region because we have been welcoming refugees for, at that point, more than a decade. The [political] rhetoric was frightening to everyone, regardless of their status. It was anti-immigrant and very hateful,” Sheehan said.

In addition to the opportunity to serve immigrant communities, client representation and legal practice has been a highlight of Chopra’s time at Albany Law.

“It's been such a great experience dedicating myself to practice. One of the best parts of my law school experience already was the practical experience I got in the clinic,” Chopra said.

Back when she was choosing a law school, Chopra knew she needed one with an immigration law clinic. She found Albany Law’s clinical experience so beneficial that she expanded into the Pro Bono Scholars program, where she has been excited to have the chance to continue working on immigration issues.

“To have this experience as a Pro Bono Scholar is something I am very thankful for,” she said. “Without this experience, I would not be as confident in assisting clients and taking on more challenging pro bono projects.”

The Pro Bono Scholars program allows students to take the bar exam in February during their final semester of study. The Pro Bono Scholars then devote the 12 weeks following the bar exam to providing full-time pro bono legal assistance through an approved field placement or clinic to serve individuals and communities who have had limited access to legal institutions.

In total, Chopra has completed more than 775 hours of pro bono work at Albany Law School.

“Having the opportunity to work with clients one-on-one in law school is such a unique experience. Everyone should do it. You can make a huge impact in the lives of your clients,” she said. “You have the support here in the Justice Center to continue on and make a real difference. It doesn’t have to end when your clinic [experience] ends – it’s just the beginning. The Justice Center team is so supportive of that.”