Beginning this semester, Gonzaga University School of Law has created a law clinic for immigrants who do not have financial assets to hire an immigration attorney.
“The need for immigration legal services for the underserved migrant communities is huge,” said Gene DiRe, Catholic Charities executive vice president of programs and advocacy services.
“There are only a handful of legal services providers that provide services at reduced or no-fee and that is huge because most of our migrant communities are low-income,” DiRe said. “The clinic is a partnership between Catholic Charities and the Law School. This is truly a joint partnership, we really are working together and I think that is very unique in the country. We think that this is one of the only, if not the only, such partnership in the U.S.”
The idea of the Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at GU’s School of Law was created by GU alumni and president of Catholic Charities Robert J. McCann and the dean of Gonzaga University School of Law Jacob Rooksby. The partnership includes resources of both organizations.
The GU School of Law brings students wanting to work on immigration cases and professors with expertise in the field of immigration law. Catholic Charities has an existing infrastructure that has been providing immigration legal services since 2001. This includes immigration attorneys on staff, a network of churches so immigrants can be referred to legal services that fit their budget and provides additional human services.
“Catholic Charities has a reputation of being a safe space for immigrants and refugees,” said Megan Ballard, a professor in the GU School of Law.
Ballard teaches classes at the school of law, including immigration law, and is helping support the clinic. She hopes to see the clinic grow and potentially add a policy branch in the future.
“Students who participate in the clinic will learn valuable legal skills whether they plan to practice immigration law or not,” she said.
The clinic currently has four students working on various immigration cases including third-year law student Alejandra Lopez.
Lopez said that she has been interested in immigration law for some time and has done several internships in the immigration legal field, including last summer where she worked with migrant children that are being held in shelters in Arizona.
“So far all of my clients have been really nice, they are super grateful for what we are doing for them,” Lopez said. “Immigrants tend to be super thankful because the immigration world is so complicated.”
Additionally she said that immigration cases can take a long time, and is looking forward to continuing her work next semester in order to see her cases to the end.
The last link between the GU School of Law and Catholic Charities is attorney Megan Case.
A graduate of GU School of Law, Case worked as an immigration attorney at Catholic Charities for four years before becoming the director of the new immigration law clinic. Her job includes handling the intake of cases, getting the word out about the clinic and helping the students with their cases.
Students at the clinic are responsible for taking cases and working with clients. When discussing students, Case said that the students have a lot of responsibility but they were up to the challenge and had done a great job to “hit the ground running" after a recent start of the clinic.
There is a need, now more than ever, for immigration attorneys, according to Case.
“It is a very broad and complex area of law that requires commitment, but is super rewarding,” she said.