Students Present Research on Immigrants’ Rights at Graduate Student Research Symposium

On April 16th, William & Mary Law School, William & Mary School of Education, and the Center for Racial and Social Justice held the inaugural Racial and Social Justice Graduate Student Research Symposium. At the Symposium, students from both the Law School and School of Education presented their research to faculty and fellow students, eliciting interdisciplinary feedback and critique.

“Students across William & Mary are engaged in innovative justice-oriented research. We organized the Symposium to provide them the opportunity to connect with each other, present their work in an academic setting, and receive feedback from engaged faculty and colleagues,” said Professor Vivian Hamilton, Director of the Center for Racial and Social Justice. “We hope that this will be the first of what will become an exciting annual event.”

Three students currently working in, or in collaboration with, the Immigration Clinic presented: Gabby Vance, a third-year law student enrolled in the Immigration Clinic, and Kaitlin Hinchey and Melina Hoyos, doctoral and Master’s counseling students in the School of Education.

Gabby presented her research on the impact of the Supreme Court case Padilla v. Kentucky, a case that held that defense attorneys have a constitutional obligation to inform their immigrant defendants about the potential immigration consequences of a guilty plea.1 Gabby argued that all defense attorneys—both public defenders and the private bar—should be required to undergo specialized training so that they can explain the immigration consequences of convictions or pleas to their clients, and that resources and guides should be produced and disseminated to ensure such training.

“I would not have found my passion for working with non-citizens but for my experience in the Immigration Clinic,” said Gabby Vance. “Criminal law has been my interest since I began law school, but I realized from my research how important it is that criminal attorneys understand and are aware of the complexities of immigration law.”

Kaitlin and Melina presented about their work with the School of Education’s Flanagan Counselor Education Clinic. Kaitlin and Melina have been integral to the development and implementation of a new partnership program established between the Immigration Clinic and the Flanagan Clinic to provide mental health services to Immigration Clinic clients. In their presentation, Kaitlin and Melina discussed the need for counseling services for immigrants and asylum seekers and how the program is meeting that need. Kaitlin and Melina specifically addressed the barriers that many immigrants face in receiving mental health services, including cost and stigma. They also discussed how assessments often used by counselors—and heavily relied upon by immigration attorneys, immigration judges, and Asylum Officers2—are not culturally sensitive and may not appropriately measure conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder across languages and cultures. Kaitlin and Melina are working with their supervisors to address these barriers in their individual treatment of clients, as well as through broader research and advocacy.

”It was enormously inspiring to witness the student presentations at the Symposium. The students’ commitment to their social justice work and the depth of knowledge they conveyed was impressive and impactful,” said Professor Stacy Kern-Scheerer, Director of the Immigration Clinic. “I was especially proud to see so many former and current Immigration Clinic students and Clinic partners discuss their work, and I look forward to seeing where their energy and intellect takes them moving forward.”

[1] See Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, SCOTUSBlog,

[2] See, e.g. PHR Asylum Program, Physicians for Human Rights,; Jeffrey Chase, The Importance of Expert Witnesses, Opinions/Analysis on Immigration Law (Aug. 24, 2017), (“[A] medical expert’s testimony might necessarily buttress an asylum applicant’s claim to have suffered past persecution. . . . Furthermore, a psychological expert might provide a medical explanation for problems with the applicant’s factual recall or demeanor, both of which are factors that can be relied on by an immigration judge to support an adverse credibility finding.”).