Founded over 20 years ago, the UH Law Center Immigration Clinic allows law students and undergraduates to gain hands-on experience representing clients with a variety of backgrounds.
Since its 1999 opening, the center’s mission statement has continuously centered around helping the immigrant community, but has developed more modern ways to handle cases, according to clinic director Teresa Messer.
Messer stated that with the opening of the new law school, students are working in a happier and more modernized environment.
“They get a lot of hands-on practical experience,” Messer said. “And then in addition, we have a class once a week and we teach them specific areas of immigration law and then we do practices within the class.”
Local nonprofit organizations refer cases to the clinic when they are at capacity or have a particular case that the students would learn from, and the clinic also volunteers at community outreach events to network.
The clinic focuses mainly on humanitarian immigration, which includes asylum and children arriving in the U.S. without a parent.
Clinic student Namratha Satish Kumar completed her bachelor’s degree in India, where she states immigration law is not viewed from much of a humanitarian perspective. Once meeting Messer, Kumar began to understand the aspects aside from just the procedural aspect of dealing with paperwork.
“It’s such a vast subject and it has so much potential and it’s linked to international law with respect to the humanitarian aspect,” Kumar said.
The biggest issue clinic student Kayla Vazquez has faced is the learning curve of different immigration offices and relief forms. The work done in the clinic is essential according to Vazquez not only are the clients a marginalized community, but they are also unable to cover the necessary costs.
“I have to commend the clinic professors,” Vazquez said. “They are brilliant and patient with us as we learn the ins and outs of immigration law and its practice.”
Human resources senior and intern at the clinic Turab Abbas, is an immigrant from Pakistan and once arriving in the U.S., realized how much energy and effort the immigration process is and wanted to become “the agent of change.”
As an intern, Abbas gathers legal documents and citations for the law students, which he finds intimidating due to how making one small mistake could potentially disturb an entire case.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s very empowering as well that I’m just an undergrad working on these very hefty and extensive legal documents,” Abbas said. “And getting exposure to that is very rewarding.”
To students wanting to go into law school, Kumar says the key is to not compete and to be team-oriented.
“Some people may have language barriers, some people may have cultural barriers, so it’s very important to have a very team-oriented approach,” Kumar said.