Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic Pursues Legal Integrity on Both Sides of Border

By Marissa Montes & Emily Robinson, Co-Directors of the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

 The Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles is the first law school-housed community-based immigration clinic in the United States. above. (L-R) Sandra Ruiz, staff attorney; Marissa Montes ’12, co-director; Emily Robinson ’12, co-director; Professor Kathleen Kim, faculty adviser; Alejandro Barajas, staff attorney (photo by Loyola Marymount University)

The Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles is the first law school-housed community-based immigration clinic in the United States. above. (L-R) Sandra Ruiz, staff attorney; Marissa Montes ’12, co-director; Emily Robinson ’12, co-director; Professor Kathleen Kim, faculty adviser; Alejandro Barajas, staff attorney (photo by Loyola Marymount University)

On a recent Friday afternoon, attorneys at the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic (LIJC) at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles convened to discuss the most pressing challenges facing their immigrant clients. The biggest problem: Where to start.

“There are allegations of forced labor at some immigrant detention centers. The federal government is challenging California’s ability to inspect detention facilities while also seeking to destroy so-called sanctuary city policies. And asylum is more difficult to obtain than ever,” said Loyola Professor Kathleen Kim, faculty adviser to the clinic and a nationally renowned expert on immigration law. “It’s almost like the White House is deliberately trying to grind the immigration relief system to a halt.”

The LIJC, the first law school-housed, community-based immigration clinic in the United States, pursues justice on behalf of its clients through a range of initiatives: assistance with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) renewals; humanitarian relief for unaccompanied minors and victims of crime; outreach on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border; immigration law training for pro bono removal defense attorneys; and free intake clinics in East Los Angeles.

The heart of the issue, as LIJC attorneys see it, is educating clients about their rights. To that end, more than 10,000 free client consultations have been conducted since the clinic was founded in 2012. Housed in the Loyola Social Justice Law Clinic, the LIJC is able to see clients both on-campus and at the sites of its partners, which include Jesuit-affiliated ministries like Homeboy Industries and the Dolores Mission.

“It is very important to assess all of your legal options,” said LIJC Co-Director Emily Robinson. “At this point, when laws are constantly in flux and we don’t know who is being prioritized and we’re unsure of enforcement actions, it’s critical to take the time to understand the entire legal landscape of your legal status.”

On a policy level, the LIJC has advocated for the fair implementation of sanctuary laws limiting California law enforcement officers’ obligations to collaborate with federal immigration authorities. The LIJC also authored testimony on behalf of law professors opposing case quotas for immigration judges (which, they argued, incentivise deportation) into the record with the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration.

As part of its expanding educational outreach efforts, a contingency of LIJC attorneys traveled this past summer to Jalisco, Mexico, where LIJC Co-Director Marissa Montes ’12 consulted with immigrants preparing to cross the border. “I warned them of the dangers they would face, including the possibility that children would be separated from their parents,” she said. “Most of them said they had no other option but to continue north.”

Earlier this year, in March 2018, LIJC attorneys organized a spring break trip to El Paso, Texas, as part of the hands-on class, “Immigration Law and the Border.” This unique course exposed students to policy and legal issues in the classroom and on the front lines of the immigration debate, all while providing a healthy dose of client representation. Students engaged in a variety of activities designed to expose them to the real-life challenges they will encounter as immigration lawyers.

“The experience broadened my perspective on how immigration issues play out in other parts of the country,” said Anabel Martinez ’18. The LIJC will continue its frontline efforts by bringing law students back to the border in January 2019 to aid asylum seekers.

In Los Angeles, with removal proceedings surging, the LIJC is training attorneys to help with removal defense. Thanks to a grant from the California Foundation through the L.A. Justice Fund (LAJF), the LIJC and its partners developed and are implementing a curriculum to train seasoned immigration attorneys on challenging removal cases, and to serve as mentors to as many as 100 up-and-coming advocates. The grant will help fund a resource bank with webinars and materials to support the immigration removal defense efforts of its trainees and affiliates.

The LIJC has also implemented the Removal Defense 101 program to prepare interns for removal defense work. The new practicum will place the interns (law students from Loyola and other schools working with L.A. Justice Fund grantee organizations) with other LAJF beneficiaries to assist clients in removal cases. In addition, the LIJC developed a new course that launched in August 2018 at Loyola Law School on immigration bond. The first of its kind in Los Angeles County, this course will teach law students to represent clients and secure their release from immigration detention.

Elsewhere, Loyola Law School and its parent institution, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), have strongly supported undocumented students. The LIJC has assisted with more than 500 DACA applications and renewals since January 2016. Meanwhile, LMU President, Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., has publicly expressed his support for DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers. In a September 2017 letter to the LMU community, he wrote, “Since the advent of DACA, we have experienced its profound benefits for our students and its positive impacts on our university and our nation.”

As the need for immigration services escalates, Loyola students, staff attorneys, professors and administrators underscore their pride in Loyola’s commitment to public service. Robinson said, “We are fortunate to be part of Loyola, where we are truly trained to be lawyers for others.”