DePaul’s Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic is a hybrid — a place where DePaul law students learn the intricacies of real-world cases and a place that gives legal aid to hundreds of immigrants and refugees each year, while providing support and training to 25 community-based organizations — a hybrid that lives the Vincentian mission.
“Through the clinic, our students serve those without representation — people fleeing persecution, people facing imprisonment or worse if they’re returned to their countries, people fearing deportation and discrimination,” says Sioban Albiol, director.
“At lot of DePaul law students want to work in public interest and in human rights — immigration law is right in the intersection of the two, so we have a large pool of engaged students. Quite a few students start out curious about immigration law and end up committed to improving access to justice for immigrants.”
One of those was Amany Ezeldin:
“The clinic was my best experience in law school because we had actual clients, from the beginning. In every case, we took the long, arduous path to a resolution — yes, the professors had the answers, but learning step-by-step was the best education possible.
"In my first job, I was the only immigration attorney in a legal services agency. If I hadn’t known — first-hand and in detail — how to help a victim of domestic violence apply for an immigration benefit under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), I would not have been able to do my job. And once you have 100 clients, you can’t learn as-you-go. I attribute my professional success to having gone through the clinic.”
Ezeldin is an Immigration Law Analyst in the CIS Ombudsman’s Office of the Department of Homeland Security. As part of her job, she assists individuals having problems in the immigration process. “Working in the clinic taught me that immigration work is community work, a real service to society. Working for the government is just working for a bigger community.”
Sarah J. Diaz, clinical instructor and attorney, says that the clinic benefits DePaul students and its community partners alike:
“Our students get the kind of experience that they wouldn’t get any other way — from supporting complex cases to delivering straightforward but labor-intensive technical assistance — the kind that prepares them for professional careers.
"Working in the clinic can also have a profound personal impact, as our students witness how immigration laws affect individual lives. They see the confusion and fear that immigration laws and policies engender, and they see how clients are affected by positive outcomes.
"At the same time, our community partners get extraordinary support. Our success rate is high; our students’ intelligence and dedication are remarkable; and our service is second-to-none. We handle more than 400 cases every year.”
The clinic started in 1996, when funding organizations (including the Chicago Bar Association Foundation, the Lawyers’ Trust Fund, and the Polk Bros. Foundation) approached DePaul for two reasons: 1) the law school would give the funders access to attorneys and talented law students who want to do legal aid work (“Using DePaul students gives them a lot more ‘bang for their buck’ since we don’t charge any fee” says Diaz) and 2) DePaul was trusted and respected by immigrant-serving organizations in the greater Chicago area.
“My desire to make a difference — that comes from the clinic,” says Ezeldin.