The Clinic’s First Year: A Student’s Perspective

By Meghan Woods, Class of 2021

I was lucky enough to get into the Immigration Clinic class the first semester it was offered, during the fall of my 2L year. I was even luckier to be part of the team that worked on the clinic’s first case: a man and his son who were trying to get asylum. I had never worked with clients before, as my 1L summer job had been a research position, and I had never even taken an immigration law class. On top of that, this case threw at us a plethora of other challenges: imminent deadlines, interpreters teleconferenced in over Skype, and court hearings cancelled at the last minute, to name just a few.

When my clinic partner and I started work on the case, in collaboration with a local attorney, the deadline to apply for asylum was fast approaching. After a number of hurdles, we managed to get the application in right under the wire, and we were able to let out a collective sigh. We still had work to do, but the mad rush was over.

Well, at least we thought it was.

What I learned fairly quickly in the Clinic is that you can’t ever expect the calm to last, and this case was no exception. We knew that the case would be scheduled for an initial court hearing at some point, but we anticipated that, as in most cases, we would have a fair amount of notice. Unfortunately, that was not the case. With around a week’s notice, our Clinic Director and I had to prepare for a hearing, which, in Immigration Court, involves printing out and organizing a plethora of color-coded forms and documents, precisely hole-punched and produced in triplicate. On my part, it also involved a great deal of mental preparation. I had done a number of mock court hearings in law school, but I had never appeared for a client in an actual court of any kind. While my supervisor would be there the entire time, ready to step in if necessary, that did little to quell my anxiety.

Because our hearing was at 8:30 in the morning, and the Immigration Court is in Arlington (about two and a half hours away), we had to drive up the evening before and stay in a hotel overnight. The next morning, with my anxiety somewhat under control, we walked to the courthouse only to find yet another surprise: a notice on the door indicating that all hearings before our judge had been cancelled for the rest of the week, and would be rescheduled. After getting over our initial reaction – which was something of a combination of frustration, amusement, and “well, of course this is what would happen” – we got in touch with our interpreter, who called the client (who was still on the way to Arlington) and told him to turn around.

That isn’t the end of my part in this story. I worked with our Clinic Director so that I could continue to work on immigration issues and Clinic matters as an Independent Study for a second semester. In the Spring, we trekked to Arlington yet again for the rescheduled hearing. Thankfully, our judge was there this time. Having now prepared two times, I was considerably less nervous.

I probably won’t ever know what ultimately happens in this case, or to any of the other cases I worked on in the Immigration Clinic. The process of applying for virtually any immigration status is an extremely slow one, measured in years, not semesters. Even after all my time working with Clinic, none of the cases I worked on are really over. I am so grateful to have been a part of helping them though at least part of that process, and I would sign up to do it again in a heartbeat.