For Villanova Law students Rachel Silver ’16 and Lauren Otero ’16, working in the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) began as an opportunity to gain hands on experience. But after recently winning asylum for a 14-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and abused before fleeing her home country, the students gained not only practical experience but also professional fulfillment.
“For me, this case and the CARES clinic were game changers,” said Silver, who came into law school with an interest in intellectual property law. “I found a passion in immigration law that I didn’t expect.”
CARES, an international human rights and immigration clinic, gives VLS students the opportunity to represent refugees who have fled human rights abuses in their home countries and seek asylum in the United States. Silver and Otero’s client fled from both violent abuse and political corruption, as her kidnapper was a politically influential narco-trafficker in the community.
CARES students work in pairs and represent clients from beginning to end in court proceeding before an Immigration Judge or in an interview before an Asylum Officer. Due to the backlog of asylum cases, Silver and Otero didn’t anticipate their client would get an asylum interview for months and planned on exploring alternative relief options for her. However, the students received notice of their client’s asylum interview with only about two weeks to prepare.
“That interview is really the make or break moment for asylum applicants. That is the opportunity to share their stories, explain why they deserve asylum, and hope that the asylum officer finds them credible and that their experiences qualifies them to stay in the country,” said Silver.
With minimal time to prepare, the greatest difficulty for the students was getting their client to divulge the details of her experience without much time to gain her trust. Fortunately, both Otero, who speaks fluent Spanish, and Libby Pica, a Villanova undergraduate Spanish student who worked with them as an interpreter, were able to bridge the language barrier.
The students also had support from their faculty supervisor, Professor Michele Pistone, and fellow students. Christine Marcozzi ’15 and Greg Matthews ’15 were incredibly generous with their time and helped prep the client, said Otero.
Prior to starting in CARES, Silver and Otero took a course in immigration law–which both agree, together with the clinical coursework, was imperative to their success. This case was a radically different educational experience than they had in other classes at Villanova Law and they believe that it will be invaluable to their future success as lawyers.
“It was so rewarding, and I gladly spent hours in the clinic and stayed up many nights working on the case,” said Otero. “Having a real person in the equation was that impetus, the catalyst, that fueled a passion for law.”
To learn more about CARES or one of the other clinics at Villanova University School of Law, click here.