YLS Clinical Students Represent Immigrants Detained in Texas

After traveling to the South Texas immigration detention center earlier this year, Yale Law School clinical students have continued to represent women and children who are seeking asylum while incarcerated in the nation’s largest immigration detention facility.

In March and May 2015, nine students from the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization (LSO) at Yale Law School traveled to Dilley, Texas to assist families held in the detention facility with limited access to counsel. The students’ travel was funded by the Gruber Project on Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School.

The family detention facility is operated by a private corporation and incarcerates mothers and their children, most of whom are fleeing gang and domestic violence in Mexico and Central America, according to the clinical students. The jail is designed to hold up to 2,400 immigrants, and the number of detainees has steadily increased since its opening last year. As of July 2015, the facility held roughly 1,900 individuals, more than 1,000 of them children, according to the clinic.

During the March trip, three students—Jacob Goldberg ’15, Claire Simonich ’16, and Dorothy Tegeler ’16—represented families during their initial asylum interviews and bond hearings under the supervision of professors Chris Lasch ’96, an LSO Cover Fellow in 2007–09, and Lisa Graybill, both from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Many families represented by students were able to secure positive interview findings. Others were released on bond.

During the May trip, six students—Will Bloom ’17, Jordan Laris Cohen ’17, Conchita Cruz ’16, V Prentice ’15, Swapna Reddy ’16, and Ruth Swift ’15—expanded their efforts to provide full-service representation to one mother in addition to assisting others with asylum interviews and bond hearings. Under the supervision of Columbia Law School professor Elora Mukherjee ’05, students prepared merits filings and represented their client in immigration court, resulting in her permanent release.

Inspired by this victory, Cruz, Mukherjee, and Reddy decided to create a remote team in June 2015 to provide merits representation for other families detained in South Texas. Eighteen Yale Law School students and recent graduates have since joined the team, offering legal and translation assistance.

Since their initial victory in May 2015, the remote merits team has secured immigration relief for three additional families and has begun the process of representing three other families. Their clients have been featured in articles discussing the heavy toll that detention has taken on immigrant families, including in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“Our experiences in Dilley have shown that law students can play an important role in providing legal representation to those who need it most,” said Reddy. “Family detention has had devastating effects. Mothers have attempted suicide and children have developed difficulties eating and sleeping. We are grateful that Yale Law School has enabled its students to take concrete steps to help these families, and we are eager to continue this work until family detention comes to an end.”

YLS clinical students, working with LSO director professor Michael Wishnie ’93, will continue to support the national movement to end family detention in South Texas. In addition to representing more families remotely, students hope to make a third trip to South Texas to provide further in-person assistance and to explore additional civil rights strategies on behalf of these detained families and children.

“Until we end family detention, the women and children detained in Dilley need continued support from as many pro bono advocates as possible to get out of detention and fight their immigration cases,” said Cruz. “Without representation, these women and their children are likely to be deported back to Central America, where they face violence, persecution, and death.”

The Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization (LSO) provides legal representation to individuals and organizations in need of legal services but unable to afford private attorneys.