One of the most pressing social justice issues in the United States is the fate of the millions of people who are swept up by the immigration system. And while the issue of undocumented workers is typically associated with states that share a border with Mexico, the burgeoning immigrant population in Southeastern New England has raised similar concerns in our area. In fact, within the last year there have been major raids of undocumented workers in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts and at all of the state courthouses in Rhode Island. In addition to these high-profile events, there are many day-to-day issues facing local immigrants, so the fact that there is no right to appointed counsel and the relative dearth of practitioners who handle such cases, means that there is a profound need for competent legal representation. I am very proud to announce that Roger Williams University School of Law has just this semester opened an Immigration Law Clinic to help make a dent in this unmet need.
The clinic is directed by a terrific new member of our tenure-track faculty, Prof. Mary Holper. (Most law schools staff their clinics with lower-paid contract lawyers.) Besides bringing stellar academic credentials (Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois, magna cum laude graduate of Boston College Law), Mary has been able to hit the ground running because she ran a similar clinic at BC for the last several years.
A law school clinic cannot just be about helping indigent clients, though; as a part of our curriculum, a clinic is also a teaching laboratory, where a faculty member closely supervises the work of a small group of students in their final year of law school, and not only provides guidance on the complexities of the relevant law (and Immigration Law is without a doubt a complex area), but also helps the students learn how to interact with clients, research the facts (which for a range of reasons do not always come from the client in the most reliable way, a problem exacerbated by the language barriers often presented by clients with poor English skills), and when necessary, provide advocacy.
The Immigration Law Clinic is an important addition to our existing clinics, in Criminal Defense and Mediation (taught by deeply experienced members of our tenured faculty), and expands the range of experiential learning opportunities at RWU. Read my earlier blog about experiential learning at RWU Law.
The clinic opening was covered in a Providence Journal release, Boston.com, and O Jornal.com
Here are some pictures from the public event announcing the new clinic, held at our downtown Providence offices this week, and which reflect both the great enthusiasm the community has about this initiative, as well as the deep support the RWU School of Law has in the bench and bar.