By Antony Clemons, Class of 2021
The Immigration Clinic definitely has a home for everyone. When selecting a clinic at William and Mary, I originally felt uncomfortable choosing the Immigration Clinic. I could not fluently speak foreign languages or proficiently read them despite years struggling through undergrad’s rudimentary foreign language coursework. I had never taken a class in immigration law or international affairs. From my perspective, my life experiences were diverse but unrelated for immigration law. I had taught previously for years in northern Virginia and had taken basic doctrinal courses in law school. Yet, not long after committing to the Immigration Clinic, I soon learned that the Clinic was perfect for my aspirations as a developing attorney. I also learned that my diverse skillset and experiences would be appreciated aiding clients in ways that I could have never imagined.
Before attending William & Mary Law School, I taught full-time in a team-taught setting. Team teaching requires teachers to be aware of various accommodations needed to create a truly equitable environment. However, in northern Virginia, the region has become a very diverse community. People from all parts of the globe move to northern Virginia seeking various opportunities. Large populations of immigrants from Central America, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and West Africa were spread through various portions of Fairfax County. Each ethnic group and nationality carry different views on education. My classroom was often a reflection of this reality. In many classes, my team teacher and I would have to plan and organize interventions tailored toward different cultures in addition with the various social and emotional accommodations required by the state. When a discussing a major assessment, we would intentionally disseminate information to teacher liaisons, administrative assistants who spoke multiple languages. In individual education plan (IEP) meetings, I learned the value of challenging various assumptions when creating equitable outcomes.
In my semester with the Immigration Clinic, I learned very quickly that my diverse perspective was valued. Given my first asylum case, I was surprised at how much my background in education allowed me to understand cultural differences when advocating for diverse peoples. Immediately, issues pertaining to equitable outcomes and equal access to justice were not intimidating. Years of practice working with families from diverse backgrounds allowed me to identify assumptions and misconceptions.
In the Clinic, when making an argument, we often look for background research to establish a record for an immigrant seeking asylum. We often look at socioeconomic research to determine whether an individual has suffered harm rising to the level needed to qualify for asylum. In IEP meetings, as a teacher, I advocated something similar. To achieve equity in my classroom, I had to convince social workers, school psychologists, and administrators that a student with a diverse background needed a specific accommodation. Now, in front of a judge, I am preparing a similar argument for asylum. The families I represent are seeking something different: an opportunity to live freely in this country. By challenging various assumptions and misconceptions pertaining to immigration law, I, again, find myself advocating for equity.
If, as a student, you feel the Immigration Clinic is not right for you because of your inexperience with immigration law, you are wrong. The Immigration Clinic appreciates its diverse advocates. There is no cookie cutter immigration lawyer. We serve a diverse clientele. Your background, regardless of where it originates, has a place in the Immigration Clinic like the families we serve.