o understand the work of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, listen to the tale of J.R., whose name has been changed to protect his privacy.
J.R., 24, was forced to flee El Salvador because of persecution at only 19 years of age. For the first time in his life, he left his small town, family, and friends, and embarked on a harrowing monthlong journey by foot to the United States.
When he arrived, he was detained at the border. An asylum officer interviewed him and found J.R. had credible fear of persecution. He was released on bond, but with no money, and no ability to hire an attorney, he was not able to pursue his legal claim to stay in the country.
Lonely, scared, and terrified of deportation, J.R. was in solitary confinement in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention on the Eastern Shore when members of the Carey Immigration Clinic found him. As a result of the efforts of clinic staff attorney Gabriela Kahrl, JD ’08, and student attorney Virginia Giannini, JD ’19, J.R. was granted asylum and no longer has to live in fear.
It is one of many success stories of the Immigration Clinic (one of 20 clinics at the law school), which has been led by professor Maureen Sweeney, JD, since 2004.
“We are often dealing with people in crisis, so that can be very emotionally demanding,” says Sweeney, whose clinic represented 76 clients in the 2018-2019 academic year, performing more than 5,200 hours of free legal services.
“The flip side is that we can help people who are in a very vulnerable position stabilize themselves and their families so they can go on to build their lives. I think students find that enormously gratifying and fulfilling, because you have the capacity to make such a difference in someone’s life at a really crucial moment for them.”