Georgia State College of Law opened a new immigration clinic in early 2020 to meet the need for more immigration attorneys in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The college’s downtown Atlanta location makes it an ideal location for the clinic, as the Atlanta Immigration Court is about 13,000 cases backlog. In Atlanta, asylum seekers wait about three years for a court date with an asylum refusal rate of 97 percent. Through the Immigration Clinic, funded by a three-year Kresge Foundation scholarship, the college hopes to train the next generation of immigration lawyers and judges to improve legal effectiveness.
Professor Emily Torstveit Ngara entered the faculty of the College of Law after Hofstra University to lead the clinic. Together with attorney Will Miller, who ran his own immigration law firm before coming to Georgia, she teaches students how to navigate the highly nuanced immigration law system.
During the first semester, the clinic enrolled 11 students to work on 12 cases. During an orientation in January, they started with a discussion on “Asylum Denied” by David Ngaruri Kenney. From there, the students learn how to submit case reports, research relevant case law and, above all, how to build customer relationships.
The latter can be a challenge in asylum cases, especially when clients have suffered trauma. For sophomore law student Shelby Guzzetta, these challenges have been incredibly rewarding to address. She was inspired to take the client with her from the experiences of her former students, many of whom were immigrants or immigrant children.
“The immigration clinic is without a doubt my favorite thing to do in law school, and that is up to the clients,” said Guzzetta. “The skills you build can be used for people in ways that really matter. Yes there is difficulty because sometimes there is a language barrier or a cultural barrier so you need to think about ways to build trust. But if you sit down and talk for a while, you will find common interests. “
Catalina Ortiz shares this feeling. Because of her own experience with immigration from Colombia to the US at the age of 13, she was drawn to the clinic course. Prior to enrolling in Georgia State, she worked as a paralegal at an immigration firm and volunteered with the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network. Ortiz says the immigration clinic taught her how to apply theory to practice.
“Professor Emily and Will do an excellent job teaching us how to effectively practice immigration law,” Ortiz said. “Not only does it build your skills as a lawyer, but it also affects a community. That’s important to me. “
With the advent of COVID-19, dedicated immigration lawyers are especially important. The raids continue, trials for detainees are held on Skype, and court dates for those not detained are postponed. The clinic has successfully argued that a single client who was in custody was released in February. Therefore, the clinic does not currently have any clients in custody. However, Torstveit Ngara remains concerned about the due process for those detained.
“There is a reported shortage of essential items like toilet paper and soap,” she said. “Several detention centers have Skype meetings with lawyers. In these cases, you step into a room that someone else was in and we know this virus can live on surfaces and in the air for extended periods of time.”
In terms of the clinic, students and faculties are focused on maintaining customer relationships despite some technological gaps and challenges. You are also preparing for the opportunity to resume online learning in the fall.
“I was satisfied with the quality of the work, the buy-in and the enthusiasm of the students,” said Torstveit Ngara. “They were brave to take this clinic off an unknown company and they were all dedicated and flexible.”
Written by Kelundra Smith