Elon University School of Law establishes Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic

Elon University School of Law has established the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, allowing students under the supervision of law faculty to provide free legal services to low-income refugees and asylum seekers in North Carolina.

The clinic begins operations in January 2011 and will be the third clinic operated by Elon’s law school. The Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic will fill an urgent need in the Triad region, which receives more than a quarter of approximately 2,000 refugees resettled in North Carolina annually through the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Legal services to refugees and those seeking asylum had been provided by Lutheran Family Services (LFS) for more than 20 years until LFS closed its Greensboro office on Sept. 30, 2010.

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 will assist clients in applying for political asylum, permanent residency, citizenship, and employment authorization, as well as reunifying families separated by war and conflict.

Under the supervision of law faculty, Elon Law students will manage all aspects of refugee and asylee cases, meeting with clients, performing intake interviews, analyzing cases for legal remedy, gathering evidence, drafting and filing applications and briefs, and maintaining client correspondence. Students will also observe and participate in hearings before federal administrative agencies and courts.

“The clinic can provide valuable learning opportunities for our law students, meet an important need in our region, and serve hundreds of people who face incredibly challenging legal issues and life circumstances,” said George Johnson, dean of the law school.

“The need for this clinic cannot be overstated,” said Gerard Chapman, a Board Certified Immigration Specialist in Greensboro. “The clinic will be an approved provider of immigration services, authorized to do so by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). It will provide both a much needed service, and a shield against those who prey on refugees and other immigrants while engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Finally, it will provide excellent real life, and very challenging experience for the students who participate in it. Those students will have to address crisis cases and apply all of their skill and creativity to help the clients of the clinic. They could not ask for a more productive and satisfying clinical experience in their law school careers.”

“The indigent individuals served through the clinic have few, if any, alternatives for legal representation in the region,” said clinic director Helen Grant, professor of law at Elon. “Because outcomes in each case handled through the clinic have enormous significance for clients and their families, students will not only gain valuable legal training, they will also experience first-hand the impact their work as lawyers will have in the lives of the people they serve.”

The law school anticipates that the clinic will handle approximately 500 to 600 refugee and asylum cases annually in its initial stages, serving clients from numerous countries. In recent years, refugees resettling in Guilford County have come from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Congo, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Laos, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan, among others.

Each student participating in the clinic will spend at least 107 hours per semester representing clients and 13 hours per semester in classes associated with the clinic. Grant will be joined at the clinic by a clinical practitioner-in-residence, an immigration counselor, and a clinic paralegal. The clinic will be housed in Elon Law’s Clinical Law Center at 210 West Friendly Avenue in Greensboro, N.C., joining the school’s Wills Clinic and Juvenile Justice Intervention and Mediation Clinic.

The North Carolina Refugee Assistance Program, part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, has selected the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic at Elon University School of Law to be an official program provider to refugees in the state for elderly citizenship and naturalization services.