Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic makes progress amid tough political climate

May 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During a tumultuous, tense and constantly evolving political cycle, students at the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic embarked on multiple projects in the 2017-18 academic year that have resulted in victories both locally and across the nation.

Clinic students Deokhee Ryu, a third-year law student, and Mark Diaz, a second-year law student, worked closely with the State College Police Department, focusing on training dozens of State College Police Department officers on immigration and remedies available to immigrant victims. On the heels of a revised anti-bias-based immigration policing policy rolled out in October 2016, Diaz and Ryu developed and presented three trainings that included common immigration terms, the nature of federal immigration enforcement, and the important role police play in assisting victims regardless of immigration status.

The most important aspect of the training to the students, though, was putting a human face to the issue of immigration, done by including videos and stories of local immigrants with Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Additionally, the clinic was able to secure law enforcement certification for the victim of a crime. The entire experience was valuable to both the students and the department.

“It was a great experience,” said Ryu. “I was able to learn how to communicate with people with different ideas and interest in the issues that I am passionate about.”

“Having to consolidate such complex concepts into an accessible presentation was a challenge, but a welcome one,” said Diaz. “It was great to work with the force for the best interests of our community.”

Second-year student Ellen Findley, along with third-year students Raquel Muniz and Mara Zrzavy, worked with Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the front lines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Together, they worked on a report about discrimination against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim.

Muniz and Zrzavy also worked together on an issue brief for the Center for American Progress on the lived experiences of DACA law students and lawyers. This brief required extensive research on the lived experiences of current and prospective lawyers and law students with DACA status under the Trump administration. The overall goal of the project was to gain insight into these experiences in order to better understand this population and to inform future policy decisions. The issue brief is set to publish later this month.

“I came to law school to acquire the necessary skills to make a difference in the lives of others and better the human condition,” said Muniz. “The clinic has been an essential component on my road toward that goal. I made great friendships and had the privilege of working under the supervision of an excellent mentor, Professor Wadhia. I feel prepared to make positive contributions to the community and society at large upon graduation.”

In addition to these extensive projects, the clinic has been actively involved in community outreach and developing resources rapidly in response to changing immigration policies since the 2016 election. They have hosted workshops and information sessions on campus and in the community in order to better equip immigrants with valuable resources, and to educate local citizens.

“I am immensely proud of my students who have not only invested hours into shaping projects and helping individuals during such challenging times, but have done so with kindness toward one another and professionalism toward our clients,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, and clinical professor of law.

The Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is one of nine clinics at Penn State Law that allow students to learn through experience under the guidance of clinical faculty. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the immigration law clinic, which was founded by Wadhia in 2008.

  • Immigrants' Rights Clinic | Penn State Law

    Members of the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic celebrate another successful year at the clinic.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 14, 2018