Inaugural Fourth Circuit Asylum Law Conference Brings Together Practitioners from Law School Clinics, Non-Profits, and Private Firms

On Friday, March 11, attorneys, professors, and students from across the country gathered on Zoom for the Inaugural Fourth Circuit Asylum Law Conference. The Conference brought attorneys from all practice areas and backgrounds to learn about recent developments in asylum law and policy, as well as best practices for preparing expert affidavits and testimony. The Conference was spearheaded by the Immigration Clinic, with cosponsors Immigrant Justice Corps and the William & Mary Center for Racial and Social Justice.

“With expert practitioners from private practice, law school clinics, and nonprofit organizations, what was clear is that across the Fourth Circuit we have an extraordinarily deep well of knowledge and dedication in this complex area of law,” said Stacy Kern-Scheerer, Director of the William & Mary Law School Immigration Clinic. “Practicing asylum law and representing asylum seekers is demanding by every measure. Our Immigration Clinic is proud to convene this Conference so that practitioners and law students across our region feel more prepared to meet those demands and take on the challenges of practicing asylum law, particularly at a time when greater access to representation is desperately needed.”

Jojo Annobil, Executive Director of Immigrant Justice Corps

“IJC is delighted to co-sponsor this important conference, bringing together practitioners in the immigration field,” said Jojo Annobil, the Executive Director of Immigrant Justice Corps. “The need for quality immigration legal services is immense, and there is an opportunity to seize this moment and tackle the immigrant representation crisis in this country. This asylum law conference is part of that effort, and we are especially proud that it has been spearheaded by an IJC Fellow who is helping to transform immigration legal services in Virginia.”

The Conference began with a presentation by Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Policy Counsel at the American Immigration Council. Aaron discussed the Biden Administration’s changes to asylum policies, with a particular focus on the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and Title 42. Both policies have been used by the Trump and Biden Administrations to limit the number of asylum seekers entering the United States through the southern border. Aaron walked attendees through the myriad of changes, including appellate decisions, impacting these policies and discussed how MPP and Title 42 may change in the coming months.

Professor Katherine Evans (top left), Ofelia Calderón (top right), Andrew Pecoraro J.D. Class of 2017 (bottom left), and Steven Schulman (bottom right)

The next panel focused on recent developments in asylum law in the Fourth Circuit. Steven Schulman, Pro Bono Partner at Akin Gump, Professor Katherine Evans, Director of Duke’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Ofelia Calderón, founding partner at Fairfax-based Calderón Seguin, spoke about recent asylum decisions in the Fourth Circuit and the direction of the court’s decisions. William & Mary Alumnus Andrew Pecoraro, J.D. Class of 2017, was the moderator. The panelists discussed the broader implications of several recent Fourth Circuit decisions, including Portillo Flores v. Garland, Martinez-Guerro v. Garland, and Herrera-Martinez v. Garland. The majority of the time was spent discussing practical applications for the holdings of these cases, including best ways to preserve the record for appeal and strategies for client affidavits and testimony.

Next, the focus of the Conference shifted to access to counsel for asylum seekers across Virginia. The panel was moderated by Laurie Ball Cooper, Director of Legal Services at Ayuda. She spoke with Susheela Varky of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center, and Professor Matthew Boaz from Washington & Lee’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. Panelists discussed challenges they faced recruiting pro bono attorneys to represent asylum seekers, including the incredibly long delays and backlogs at the immigration courts. The panelists also weighed in on states’ and localities’ efforts to fund removal defense for detained immigrants.

After lunch, the next panel focused on best practices when working with country conditions experts. The Immigration Clinic’s Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow, J. Nicole Alanko, J.D. Class of 2018, moderated the panel. She spoke with Dr. Mary Ellsberg, Director of the Global Women’s Center at the George Washington University, retired Immigration Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, and Professor Lindsay Harris, Associate Dean of Clinical and Experiential Programs and Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia Law School. The panel discussed best practices when working with country conditions experts from the perspective of attorneys, offered by Professor Harris, and the perspective of the experts, offered by Dr. Ellsberg. Judge Schmidt offered a valuable perspective from his time at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, discussing the most effective strategies from his time on the bench.

Dr. Daniel Gutierrez

In the last panel of the day, Immigration Clinic Director Stacy Kern-Scheerer and Dr. Daniel Gutierrez and Kaitlin Hinchey from the William & Mary School of Education discussed best practices when working with mental health experts. The panel highlighted the importance of working collaboratively across disciplines in representing asylum seekers, including best ways to educate one another on the role of mental health assessments and treatments. The panel discussed these practices in the context of the Pathways to Hope Initiative, Immigration Clinic’s and Flanagan Clinic’s partnership to provide legal counsel and mental health services to immigrants across Hampton Roads.

“Speaking as both a panelist and an attendee, the William & Mary Inaugural Fourth Circuit Asylum Law Conference was a rousing success,” said Andrew Pecoraro, J.D. Class of 2017. “What stuck out to me was the practical advice that came out from each session.  Each speaker offered a unique perspective on the complex issues facing individuals seeking asylum in the United States, and I left armed with several real-world strategies to use when representing such individuals.”

The Immigration Clinic would like to thank our incredible speakers, who are all listed below, for their generosity in sharing their time and expertise. We would also like to thank our cosponsors, the Center for Racial & Social Justice and Immigrant Justice Corps, for their support of this program.

Inaugural Fourth Circuit Asylum Conference Speakers

  • One Year In: The Biden Administration and Asylum Policy
    • Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Esq., Policy Counsel at the American Immigration Council
  • Developments in Fourth Circuit Case Law
    • Ofelia Calderon, Esq., Calderon Seguin, PLLC
    • Katherine Evans, Esq., Duke University Law School
    • Steven H. Schulman, Esq., Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld LLP
    • Moderator: Andrew Pecoraro, Esq., Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
  • Increase Access to Pro Bono Counsel in Underserved Areas: Virginia as a Case Study
    • Matthew Boaz, Esq., Washington & Lee School of Law
    • Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Esq., Legal Aid Justice Center
    • Susheela Varky, Esq., Virginia Poverty Law Center
    • Moderator: Laurie Ball Cooper, Esq., Ayuda
  • Country Conditions: From Page to Practice
    • Dr. Mary Ellsberg, Ph.D., The George Washington University
    • Lindsay Harris, Esq., University of the District of Columbia School of Law
    • Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, retired, Executive Office for Immigration Review
    • Moderator: J. Nicole Alanko, Esq., William & Mary Law School
  • Working Across Disciplines: Best Practices for Attorneys and Mental Health Professionals in Asylum Seeker Evaluations
    • Dr. Daniel Gutierrez, Ph.D., NCC, William & Mary School of Education
    • Kaitlin Hinchey, Doctoral Candidate, William & Mary School of Education
    • Stacy Kern-Scheerer, Esq., MPH, William & Mary Law School