YLS Students Mobilized to Protect Clients From DACA Termination

<p>Susanna Evarts ’18 and Emily Villano ’19 addressing the press outside of a WIRAC case hearing on DACA in federal court in Brooklyn.</p>

The Yale Law School experience transforms the lives of students, alters the future of their clients, and changes the national conversation. This Yale Law Report feature spotlights the innovative and life-changing work happening through four clinics and centers in which students lead the way. 


Filing the country’s first legal challenge to the abrupt termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

When news broke that the President was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this past September, the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) wasted no time leading the charge to stand with Dreamers.

In a matter of hours, students and faculty from the clinic went back to federal district court on behalf of Martín Batalla Vidal, a young immigrant New Yorker, and the organization Make the Road New York (MRNY) in the Eastern District of New York. The September 5, 2017 filing argues that President Donald Trump’s actions violate federal law and the equal protection guarantee under the Constitution. It was the first legal challenge to DACA in the nation, coming on the heels of WIRAC’s success in securing the first national injunction to the Administration’s travel ban back in January 2017.

A man speaking at a microphone with people holding a banner behind him reading Make the Road New York

Members of the clinic were able to act quickly by amending a lawsuit that had originally been filed in 2016 challenging a ruling in United States v. Texas that blocked Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of DACA from going into effect. The outcome of this case, which is currently being litigated in both the district court and the second circuit, will have major national implications.

“The stakes are immense,” said Emily Villano ’19. “Eight hundred thousand DACA recipients stand to lose their status as a consequence of the Trump administration’s decision. Knowing that this touches the lives of so many across the country, including family and friends, is in the background of all the work we do in this case.”

The DACA case is a prime example of the unparalleled clinical experience students receive at Yale Law School. Over the course of the last several months, WIRAC students have researched and drafted briefs, argued their merits in federal court, and led high-profile press conferences with national media outlets.

“Being involved in this case has helped me tremendously in my development as a lawyer,” said Hannah Schoen ’19, noting how students worked quickly to make multiple filings before the district judge, the magistrate judge, and the Second Circuit. “All of this has allowed me to improve my litigation skills across the board. But more generally, I have learned how law can protect people and ensure that they are treated fairly and non-arbitrarily.”

Healy Ko ’19 said she came to law school because she wanted to improve the lives of immigrants and workers, and has found WIRAC a rewarding experience as it has helped her reach those goals.

“As a clinical student, I have worked on a wide range of cases that use the law differently to achieve positive changes in the community, from direct legal representation to local advocacy to impact litigation,”said Ko. “These experiences have allowed me to explore what it means to be a lawyer and discover what kind of lawyer I hope to be after law school.”

Students in WIRAC are guided and trained by some of the top faculty in the country, including Muneer Ahmad, deputy dean for experiential education and clinical professor of law, Marisol Orihuela ’08, associate clinical professor, and Michael Wishnie ’93, the William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law. While these faculty members are integral to the success of the clinic, they stay largely in the background, encouraging students to step up and realize their full potential.

“As a former WIRAC student, it is an unbelievable joy for me to work with the students on this case,” said Orihuela. “Since its inception, the clinic has been providing students with the opportunities to blossom into excellent lawyers and social justice advocates.”

“Since its inception, the clinic has been providing students with the opportunities to blossom into excellent lawyers and social justice advocates.” — Associate Professor Marisol Orihuela

Whether standing before a judge for the first time, consulting with clients, or pulling an all-nighter writing up a brief, Orihuela said the students “live the clinic values by working tirelessly and fighting on behalf of their clients.”

Students in the clinic not only get incredible hands-on experience, but they also have the power to change lives. Through their legal advocacy, WIRAC gives a voice to underrepresented clients—immigrants—who at this juncture in the nation’s history are finding themselves increasingly vulnerable.

“Though the work has been challenging, I feel very lucky to be part of a team of tireless advocates, DACA recipients, lawyers, students, and allies throughout the country fighting on all fronts to protect this program,”said Ko. “Working on the DACA case, in particular,
has been very meaningful to me because it is a program that has intimately affected the lives of my family and friends.”

“Facing the magnitude of this case, I have been blown away by the courage and fortitude of our clients,” added Villano. “I feel honored to be advocating on their behalf, and am simply lucky to be able to stand beside them.”

After experiencing WIRAC both as a student and now as faculty member, Orihuela agreed that what truly fuels this passionate team is a strong sense of duty to protect their clients.

“There is no doubt that students came to Yale Law School to become skilled at legal advocacy, which they are doing by litigating in various courts,” said Orihuela. “But what is defining their law school experience is the opportunity to stand next to Dreamers, and to fight to make sure the government does not disrupt hundreds of thousands of people’s lives at the stroke of a pen.”

Read more from the Yale Law Report feature on life-changing legal work covering the Arbitration Clinic, the Global Health Justice Partnership, and the Financial Markets and Corporate Law Clinic.