Students Travel Virtually to Provide Immigration Legal Aid

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing travel, UC Hastings Law students continued their work to help people seeking asylum.

For the past three years, students have gone to T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a facility outside Austin, Texas, where people awaiting decisions on their immigration status are detained. This spring, that tradition continued.

Unable to meet in person this year, nine students participated in a virtual trip to provide pro bono services. Members of the group Hastings Students for Immigrant’ Rights worked alongside faculty advisers and local organizations to help asylum seekers prepare for their hearings and transition to life outside their detention center.

The students worked with the Florence Immigration Project in Arizona and American Gateways in Texas.

For the Arizona project, students pulled together requests for humanitarian parole for particularly vulnerable individuals. “This required them to learn not only about the underlying asylum claims but about how conditions in Mexico made it dangerous for people to stay there while awaiting hearings,” said faculty advisor Naomi Roht-Arriaza.

For the Texas project, the students shadowed lawyers working on a number of urgent projects.

Matthew Ganan, a 1L student who participated in the virtual trip, helped with an appeal for a client who was without representation during his asylum hearing in Texas and had experienced problems with language interpretation. Working with an attorney from American Gateways, Ganan researched conditions in the country the client was fleeing as well as due process issues related to his hearing.

1L Matthew Ganan

As part of another initiative, Ganan helped compile information about shelters elsewhere in the U.S. for new immigrants in need of housing after being released from detention.

Ganan had worked with immigrant youth in the East Bay prior to attending UC Hastings, but lacked experience with immigration law. The virtual trip, he said, “allowed me to explore the intersection of immigration and the legal system in a new way than I’d been able to prior to law school. I was able to build on the work I’ve done in my community and learn how I can be a better advocate.”

Even remotely, it was clear to those on the “trip” that their work had paid off.

Roht-Arriaza said the work had a big effect “in that students still got to be involved in extensive trainings on the issues, got to interact with clients, and got to see how non-profit organizations working with vulnerable communities work in practice.”

“Even though we were all in our homes,” Ganan said, “we were still able to make an impact in some way.”

Students participating in this year’s effort were:

  • 1Ls Matthew Ganan, Dulce Rodas, Madeline Giles, and Diana Serrano
  • 2Ls Hannah Nowikow and Rosamaria Cavalho
  • 3Ls Emilia Shelton, Leena Sabagh, and Annalee Davis