Clinic offers legal help to immigrants
Despite escalating immigration issues in Arizona and across the country, the MSU College of Law has opened its doors and offered help to immigrants or refugees at the Immigration Law Clinic.
The new clinic provides free representation to low-income immigrants or refugees. Nine law students work at least 20 hours a week at the clinic, representing 30 clients from 15 countries, said Veronica Thronson, an assistant clinical professor of law. Thronson and her husband, law professor David Thronson, head up the program.
“There is a wide range of immigrant issues and needs across the state,” Veronica Thronson said. “Immigration law is so complex. For students to get a broad range of experience and immigrants to get the help they need, it was a combination of having an ideal setting for students to hone their skills, while providing a good resource for immigrants in Michigan.”
Though approved by the College of Law last year, the clinic wasn’t opened until the end of August. Clients usually are accepted as referrals from social service organizations and Veronica Thronson said she has contacted numerous agencies to network and let people know more about the clinic.
“We’ve had 30 cases in three weeks,” said Veronica Thronson, who took on two more cases, Monday. “People are still learning we’re here, but receiving a wide range of cases in such a short time shows us people are responding well to the clinic.”
Elizabeth Lamphier, a second year law student who works at the clinic, said it’s been has been very fast-paced but a great learning experience.
“It’s definitely a ‘jump into the pool’ kind of feeling,” said Lamphier, who is taking on six cases. “Nothing is ever the same. It can be anything from people needing a green card, to asylum, to getting their citizenship.”
Because immigrants come to the U.S. for various reasons, including to find work, flee persecution or raise a family, Veronica Thronson said the law students are able to practice a wide range of real-world immigration law.
“The idea is not to focus on one issue, but to try to give the students a wide range of issues they can gain experience from,” Veronica Thronson said.
“With immigration, you have clients depending on you to get their papers or properly handle their cases. Students get the real-world experience but at the same time they have someone over their shoulder to make sure they’re doing everything right.”
Michele Halloran, director of clinical programs for the College of Law, said the response to the clinic has been positive, and the number of cases taken shows the vast number of people who need help.
“We recognized immigration as an area where a lot of impoverished people need assistance or protection,” Halloran said. “It seemed like a natural process to expose our students to those issues and receive training. We like to have diversity in our clinical programs and immigration was an area we had not yet touched on.”
“Things like the clinic, to a very small degree, try to alleviate the consequences of a lot of undocumented immigrants coming to this country for a better life,” Alcazar said.
“While they won’t fix the bigger problems, these clinics are good as far as helping individuals and are very beneficial to the community.”