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Saturday, May 25, 2024

UC Davis law students change the lives of immigrants

UC Davis law students have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in class to make a difference in the lives of others.

The Immigration Law Clinic, one of four live-client clinics supervised by King Hall faculty, provides legal aid to immigrants in many situations, from those who are detained to those seeking green cards. As one of the only free legal service providers in the area, the clinic is constantly inundated with cases, and allows students the chance to get in on the action.

Holly Cooper, one of the faculty advisors at the clinic, works to provide students with the skill set that they need and can employ in real practice.

“This is sort of their rock because law school is very stressful,” Cooper said. “They get to come over here and have a little bit of a sanctuary – to feel like they’re doing something constructive, not just sort of abstract, with their law degree.”

For some students, working at the clinic is an opportunity to begin working with the very people they have decided to pursue a legal degree for. Serena Salinas, a second-year law student, believes that working at the clinic has been a major force behind her decision to work in immigration law after she graduates.

“Collaborating on cases with the supervising attorneys and my classmates has been a real growing experience,” Salinas said in an

e-mail interview. “I have learned a great deal about myself by working at the clinic – what my strengths are, what I am capable of and how I can grow.”

Unlike at many other law school clinics, students working at the Immigration Law Clinic are given an exceptional amount of responsibility. With the aid of the faculty advisors, students are the ones speaking to the court, writing referrals and advocating on behalf of the clients.

“That’s probably what sets us apart,” Cooper said. “The students aren’t just carrying a briefcase, they’re the ones speaking and acting as the lawyer under our supervision.”

Many students working at the clinic can identify with the plight of immigrants as some are either first or second-generation immigrants, or immigrants themselves. Kyle Morishita, a third-year law student and a fourth-generation Japanese American, has been inspired to work in immigration law because of his own family’s history.

“I want to protect the rights of the underrepresented and to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in this country that my family continues to benefit from and enjoy today,” Morishita said in an e-mail interview.

Students agree that one of the most rewarding parts of working at the clinic is the connection that forms between the client and the student. Many clients have invited students to their family weddings and baptisms, and have written heartfelt letters showing their appreciation for the work that the students have done for them.

In a profession that can lead to callousness, Cooper believes that students and faculty alike regain a sense of human connection through working at the clinic.

“To see the evolution of the human spirit is great, and I think the students are really impacted, as well. Seeing them go through this metamorphosis is really nice,” Cooper said.

Morishita believes that working at the Immigration Law Clinic has been an invaluable experience, and has come to feel like he is working among family.

“We work together, help each other, and grow alongside one another,” Morishita said. “When one of us wins a case, we all win. It is a privilege to work alongside people who share the same goal and are fueled by the same fire.”

RACHEL RILEY can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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