Blog Entry 1

Posted by David Koelsch
David Koelsch
David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law C
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on Thursday, 20 October 2011
in Faculty Blogs

A recent movie, Julie and Julia, portrayed a woman who blogged every day for one year about a different recipe by Julia Child. I can’t promise anything nearly as interesting or useful (my cooking skills lean more towards grilled cheese and waffles than beef tenderloin and crème brulee) but I’ll try to give you a few glimpses into my work directing students in the Immigration Law Clinic.

Today was one of those days I am glad to be a lawyer. At 8:00 a.m. I was at the Immigration Court to represent a Lebanese woman who has been detained for one year. Her asylum claim was remanded from the Board of Immigration Appeals to allow us to file a new asylum application based on a novel legal theory raised in our appellate brief. My first job is to try to get her out of jail. She is on suicide watch and looks horrible when I see her on the televideo link in the courtroom. The high point of the brief hearing is when she realizes that she is getting a fresh chance at asylum and she gives out the smallest of smiles. On Saturday morning, a student and I will go to the Calhoun County Jail to gather more information from her for her new asylum claim.


I was back in court for a 1:00 hearing. This was the final hearing for a woman from a West African country who was involved in politics and was brutally tortured by the government that is still in power. She came here in 2000 and her asylum claim has been pending all of that time. Her first hearing was in December 2007 and law students who graduated last year conducted an eight-hour direct examination. Her last hearing was supposed to be in February 2009 but the interpreter did not show so it was bumped to today. Today’s hearing was just for the prosecution’s cross-examination, our re-direct, closing arguments and a decision. I did not even involve my students in the case because it was not that big of a deal and I prefer for them to handle a case from start to finish. Our client recounted once again the details of how she was gang-raped and her husband was beaten nearly to death and how she has not seen her children for nine long years. Her testimony was flawless: precise, detailed and compelling.

Very few cases come down to the closing argument but this one did. The prosecutor pointed out what he saw as discrepancies in her claim and I explained that any discrepancies were minimal and that her testimony was very credible and was supported by documents in the record and I cited Sixth Circuit precedent for the credibility standard. The judge explained his decision to grant asylum in such a clear and logical manner that the prosecution agreed to waive an appeal and our client walked out of the court with asylum. I was so impressed with her. I usually ask a last question of our clients on cross-examination: “Is there anything else you would like to say to the judge?” We had rehearsed her answer but she ad-libbed to thank the judge, the prosecutor, me and the interpreter for our hard work and time and she thanked the American people for giving her the chance to present her claim. The judge was visibly touched by her gratitude at the end of a very stressful hearing.

So that’s a day that makes me glad that I can help other people out while at the same time allowing the students entrusted to me the chance to learn along with me. I’ll try to make this a regular deal and please feel free to email me with comments and/or questions at:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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About the author

David Koelsch

David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law Clinic and the Asylum Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The Immigration Law Clinic represents immigrants on a variety of legal issues, including abandoned immigrant children and abused immigrant women. Professor Koelsch also teaches U.S. Immigration Law and a comparative U.S.-Canada Immigration Law course as well as a Seminar on Spirituality and the Law. Koelsch was named the 2009 Outstanding Immigration Law Professor by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.