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American Immigration Lawyers Association honors Elon Law clinic

The university’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic received a "Pro Bono Champion" award for student efforts last year to assist asylum seekers at a civil detention center in Texas.

Elon Law students who worked in the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic traveled to Texas in March 2015 to provide legal assistance for women and children who had fled violence in Central America then being held in a civil detention center.

The nation’s preeminent organization of immigration attorneys honored Elon University School of Law’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic this summer with an award that recognized student efforts to help survivors of torture and sexual violence.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association presented Elon Law with a “Pro Bono Champion” award in Las Vegas at the association’s 2016 annual conference, which was attended by many hundreds of immigration attorneys from across the country. This award is given annually to an individual or organization that has made notable pro bono contributions.

The AILA’s Carolinas Chapter nominated Elon Law’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic for the award after a 2015 spring break advocacy trip by students to a civil immigration detention center in Texas where noncitizen women and children are confined during federal immigration proceedings.

Many of the women and children detained in the facility had fled homelands where civil unrest and organized crime threatened their lives. Once in the United States, they faced the additional challenges of being detained in a remote facility in the desert, without the right to appointed counsel to assist them in their legal claims.

“Though they faced obstructionist tactics ... they persevered, providing invaluable legal services and continued the clinic’s tradition of working with survivors of torture and sexual violence,” AILA stated. “The students are an inspiration to their fellow students and lawyers in our community, demonstrating the true spirit of leadership and service.”

The “Pro Bono Champion” program honors those who are “exemplars of the pillar of professionalism in pro bono work,” according to AILA. Elon Law was among 38 recipients nationwide of the 2016 honor.

Assistant Professor Heather Scavone, director of Elon Law’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, said the award is a testament to perseverance by Elon Law students in advocating for disenfranchised and vulnerable people with little or no access to legal resources.

“I am delighted that AILA has recognized the work of students in the clinic with this award. The advocacy trip that prompted this recognition was entirely conceived, funded and organized by the students. I know that the experience of representing detained women and children was, in itself extremely gratifying for them and I am doubly gratified that their efforts were noted by the immigration bar in North and South Carolina.” 

Since its founding in 2010, the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic has served more than 1,600 refugees and asylum seekers, making it one of North Carolina’s most prolific nonprofit immigration legal services providers.

Applicants for refugee or asylum status must demonstrate that they were persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and must meet other legal criteria.

The Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic assists clients in applying for political asylum, permanent residency, citizenship, and employment authorization, as well as reunifying families separated by war and conflict.

Eric Townsend,
7/22/2016 11:40 AM