March 7, 2019 – Shortly after 200 male asylum seekers unexpectedly were transferred from detention at the U.S. – Mexican border to the Charleston Regional Jail last December, Charleston School of Law students stepped in to help volunteer attorneys provide emergency legal representation.
Since January, about 20 Charleston School of Law students have been supporting volunteer attorneys organized by Mi Maletin, a Durham, N.C. nonprofit organization serving as a legal clinic for removal cases.
The students, who attended a training at the law school in late January, are assisting attorneys by conducting client intake, providing clients with basic legal information, and offering law related administrative support. Spanish speaking students also are serving as interpreters during client interviews.
“Most of the men, who are awaiting ‘credible fear interviews,’ have no idea why they are in Charleston or what the process is, and have no access to counsel,” explained Atenas Burrola, an attorney with Mi Maletin.
The project’s goal is to educate asylum seekers and prepare them for their telephone interviews in which they explain why they have a “credible fear” of returning to their home country, the next step in the asylum process. After the credible fear interview, asylum seekers move to a new location.
So far, both local and out-of-state volunteer attorneys have represented over 100 asylum seekers. With about 150 more male asylum seekers arriving late last month, the project is ongoing.
Local immigration attorney Nina Cano Richards has worked closely with the students. “The Charleston School of Law students have been wonderful to work with and learned complex asylum procedures quickly. Several students are sure to have a successful career in immigration law,” Richards said.
One of those students, 2L Alicia Carvajal, has found her passion in immigration law and described her involvement with the project “as the reason I came to law school.” Carvajal is a nurse and certified medical interpreter, and is fluent in Spanish. She has provided intake and served as an interpreter for the project.
“What I love about this opportunity is that it truly shows me what’s available in this realm,” Carvajal explained. Carvajal plans to practice immigration law and to continue to volunteer for pro bono immigration law projects when she becomes a practicing attorney.
“The project attorneys are using the law students to our full capacity,” Carvajal added.
Damjan Denoble, an attorney with Mi Maletin, agreed, describing Carvajel as “effectively the number two person on the ground. The project’s continuation could not have been assured without her stepping up at critical moments to lead the work.”
“There are other students whose own immigration stories have dovetailed with their work here. It’s just been inspiring to watch them,” Denoble said.
Praising all the student volunteers, Richards noted, “Our partnership with the Charleston School of Law has been essential to the project’s success.”
Story by: Michelle Mensore Condon
Photos by: Charleston Pro Bono Project volunteers