Students Staff Pop-Up Immigration Clinic to Help Immigrants Understand Options

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a couple of people that are standing in the grass
Rhee '18 (left) and Krisa '19                                                  

Armed with a Student Practice Order, a 2L and 3L helped staff a “pop-up” immigration clinic in Columbia County to provide legal help and offer other types of information residents needed. Students of the Immigration Law Clinic also helped screen detained and non-detained immigrants at risk of deportation at the Albany County Correctional Facility.

“Given the recent decision regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, we wanted to make sure that people knew what forms of relief, if any, were available to them,” Mary Ann Krisa ’19 said.  “By taking our legal services on the road, we transformed the conventional attorney-client relationship, and we were able to provide resources to individuals who otherwise may have gone without. This is exactly the type of thinking that allows us to help create a more equitable legal representation system.”

The two students worked with other classmates, and volunteer interpreters from Project Totem.

Grace Rhee ’18, hoping to work with survivors of sex-trafficking and gender-based violence, said the “pop-up clinic demonstrated the importance and power of community organizations, legal and otherwise, working collaboratively to assist and encourage one another and to stand in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors.”

“It’s difficult listening to people’s accounts of living in constant fear of deportation and separation from their families,” Rhee, a daughter of South Korean immigrants, said.

Rhee began her law career as a paralegal in New York City, where she gained exposure to legal concepts and formalities while assisting litigation attorneys. Rhee also volunteered her time assisting attorneys and interpreters at monthly legal aid desks stationed for low-income immigrant communities in downtown Manhattan. The experience with immigrants inspired her to become a dual J.D./M.S.W. degree candidate.

Rhee calls her work for the Immigration Clinic, under the supervision of Professor Sarah Rogerson and Staff Attorney Mary Armistead ’14,  the highlight of her dual degree program. Authorized to deliver representation under a limited Student Practice Order, law interns seek humanitarian protection on behalf of their clients, primarily under the categorization as Special Immigrant Juveniles, VAWA self-petitioners, or U Visa holders.

Krisa worked in the field of higher education for 10 years before coming to Albany.  In addition to serving as the first-year dean at Bard College and coordinating the first-year program at Bard College Berlin, Krisa worked at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she oversaw the International Living Center.   Krisa also says that in her role as the manager of  graduate and family housing at Cornell University, a community comprised of 1,200 people from 80 different countries, she became intimately familiar with the challenges that those from other countries often face when immigrating to the United States.  These experiences led her to the Immigration Law Clinic. 

“I care deeply about matters of immigration,” Krisa said.  “The Immigration Clinic provided me with an opportunity to learn and to apply the language of immigration law, and by doing so to help those who are now most vulnerable due to the political climate.” 

“It’s difficult listening to people’s accounts of living in constant fear of deportation and separation from their families,” Rhee, a daughter of South Korean immigrants, said. “However, directly engaging our client population and increasing their chances of finding legal pathways to remain in the United States—which often times is to flee violence and abuse—has been very rewarding.”