Blog Entry 4
Witnessing the resilience of the human spirit is a true gift to my students and me. This past week, two students and I met with a woman who is married to a U.S. citizen who mentally and verbally abused her and physically abused her son. The students had never met the woman before and I had only met her once before. I provided the students with a brief background on the client and her history: she is a “mail order bride” from an Eastern European country, she met her husband on the Internet and she has a son from a previous marriage. The students, as many people would, formed their own perception of the client as an uneducated, poor woman from an impoverished country who was willing to, in essence, sell herself to get a better life for her son, so she met some guy on the Internet and scammed the system to get a green card.
In the interview with our client, the students were surprised to learn that the woman had two university degrees, worked as a professional in her home country, owned her own home and that her husband visited her country five times (each time staying for nearly 30 days) over a two year period. They were also surprised to learn that it was the U.S. citizen husband who had deceived her in order to entice her to uproot her from her life in her country to marry him and move to the U.S. They became outraged at the games that her husband played to keep her and her son under his control; he limited where they could walk and with whom they could talk. He also claimed that he worked for the FBI and that he would have her deported unless she did as she was told. The students learned that he chased after her son with a carving knife when they bumped into each other while putting away groceries. And the students learned some of the weaknesses of the legal system when the client explained that she was not able to obtain a personal protection order in the state in which they lived because she waited “too long” to report the abuse.
The students are committed to helping this woman and not just because they want to learn more about the legal process but also because they care for her and her son and they want her to know that most Americans are good and decent people. The students realize that this woman and her son were victimized by a U.S. citizen and, as law students, they can help to right the wrong that was done. This is just one example from this week in which students working in the clinic were challenged to step outside their biases and preconceived notions in order to truly hear the pain and anguish in their client’s voice. This is a typical experience in all UDM clinics: they train students to confront their fears and give them the experience needed to convince themselves that they can be effective advocates for their clients.
Our students never cease to amaze me. We are in the midst of final exams right now and some students are looking a little haggard (so are some professors, present company included!). Law school final exams are unique: a term’s worth of incredibly dense material is packed into one test and that test is generally heavy on essays and applying the law to the facts of a hypothetical fact pattern. They are not easy and students devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to not only learning the subject matter but also thinking about how to apply it.
In any event – back to our amazing students. Two students in the Asylum Law Clinic had worked with a client for the past eight weeks to prepare for his trial. The problem was that we would not find out when his trial would be until we went to court with him for a short hearing on December 3. At that hearing, the judge set the trial date for January 4; if we rejected that date, the next available trial date was in July 2011!
So, we accepted that date and, without any hesitation, the two students changed their travel plans for the holidays and worked out a schedule of moot sessions and rehearsals during the holiday break. The students knew the class ended in December and that I could not make them come back to do a trial that falls in the next semester. Yet they were so invested in their client’s case and had worked so hard for him, they did not think twice about upending their personal lives for the sake of our client. Now that is what makes our students amazing!
Our client has an interesting and difficult case. He is a gay man from Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and gays and lesbians are actually arrested and many have died in government custody. It is hard to imagine such an atmosphere when we live in a society where discrimination against gays exists but acts of physical violence are not perpetrated by the government. His case is difficult because sexual orientation is a very personal matter and there is little documentary evidence to prove it. In his case, we are calling six witnesses to testify and the students found a wealth of documentary evidence regarding the treatment of gays in Uganda.
By January 4, the students and client will be fully-prepared for the trial. The students will act as attorneys at the trial by conducting direct and re-direct examinations, introducing documentary evidence, and delivering closing arguments. It is a fitting end to their time in the Asylum Law Clinic and a process that will serve them well when they get into practice and are representing their own clients.