Crimmigration Supervising Attorney Pamela Yee describes the new program she will be developing.
For those who may not be familiar, what is crimmigration?
It’s a very new area of focus for law. Traditionally, immigration law and criminal law were very separate from one another. Crimmigration focuses on the recent merging of the two fields due to changes in immigration law, migration policy, and political agendas. Changes in the way the government criminalized and policed certain migration policies resulted in a nexus between the two fields that had not previously existed. Nowadays, often one cannot consider making immigration legal analysis without delving into issues of criminal law.
What will the students in the clinic be doing and why is this type of representation so important?
The students will not only represent their clients from soup to nuts in their immigration bond hearings before the immigration court. They will work within the DC immigrant community to advocate for their client’s freedom from what is supposed to be civil – not criminal – detention. It’s important to make that distinction. Immigrants are not in jail because they are being punished for a crime. Immigration violations are civil violation. Other examples of civil violations are things like noise violations, or failure to pay child support.
Our country is a nation of immigrants, and in DC this is especially true. As Washingtonians, we benefit from the melting pot of languages, cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities from the immigrant populations that live among us. The students in our clinical program will benefit as well. Each student will have an opportunity to represent an immigration client from another country, another culture…generally a client who has strong ties to the DC area. For a number of different reasons, this person is being held in immigration detention over 3 hours away from DC, and the student attorney will give this person their only shot at getting out and reuniting with their families, friends and communities. In this clinic, the students will not only get valuable, hands-on, trial advocacy skills that will allow them to leave law school “practice-ready,” they will have also provided an invaluable service to the DC community.
What are your future plans for the program?
We hope to expand the current services to include ongoing Know Your Rights presentations for DC residents. This is something we are doing now, but we’d like to expand this in ways to better inform and protect our DC immigrant population. We are also seeking to expand our immigration representation for our clients who were able to win their bond cases and are now free, but maybe cannot find or afford an attorney to represent them in their deportation cases.
What experiences do you bring with you from previous organizations?
I came to DCLSIC from private practice. I was at an amazing immigration law firm in Northern Virginia with a diverse practice portfolio and gained invaluable experience in both defensive and affirmative immigration applications while I was there. Prior to that, I was an attorney with CAIR Coalition where I provided Know Your Rights presentations and pro bono representation exclusively for adults detained by immigration. It was at CAIR where I first supervised and mentored law students, fellows, volunteers, and pro bono attorneys. Working with students and mentoring them through an immigration case was something I have always loved, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do it here at my alma mater, DCLSIC.
What challenges are you facing with this program?
Immigrants are among the most vulnerable populations that exist. They are preyed upon by the more unscrupulous elements in our society. These are people – these are our neighbors, our co-workers….People who have children, spouses, parents who may be US citizens. Their children attend school with our children. They attend church with you, go to the same grocery store…And now they face permanent separation from their families and communities. Definitely the emotional stakes are tough.
But the wins….when you win something as basic and simple as freedom for your client — there’s nothing like it in the world.
What do you want students to take away from the immigration clinic?
The students that walk out of this clinic are not only going to be more practice-ready than their peers, they are going to be better advocates for the time they spent here. And hopefully they will learn and understand the notion, that we are a nation of immigrants, and migration is not a crime.