Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates: VIISTA

Pope Francis recently called on Catholic universities worldwide to contribute to research and teaching about refugees and migrants. As a Catholic and Augustinian institution with a deep and long-standing commitment to community service and founded to educate immigrants, Villanova is answering Pope Francis’ call.

Villanova is in the process of developing a new online interdisciplinary educational program to educate and train students to serve migrants and refugees in a pastoral or advocacy role. Specifically, the new training program will inform students about migration from an interdisciplinary perspective, with the aim for graduates to be able to provide assistance and support (including legal assistance) to migrants and refugees. The program will fill an educational gap in the field of migration and equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to serve migrants and refugees.

The online program will be organized into a series of three content modules. Each module is 14 weeks in duration and is broken into two seven week sessions. The modules will be developed in consultation with various community stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, university professors, potential employers, migrants, refugees and potential students. Students will be highly encouraged to register for all three modules, but can choose to finish their studies upon completion of the first, second or third modules. The module contents build upon each other and must be taken in order. Students will receive a module certificate upon completion of each module and a program certificate upon completion of all three modules.

This program is in the pilot phase and is scheduled to launch to the public in fall 2020.

 

MODULE 1

Module 1 focuses on how to successfully work with immigrants, and is the foundation for the program. Upon completion of Module 1 students will be able to:

  • Contextualize the global migration phenomenon
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the structure of government, sources of law and the immigration ecosystem
  • Interview an immigrant
  • Appreciate and be sensitive to cultural difference
  • Draft professional documents
  • Practice ethical advocacy for a client
  • Engage in self care

Select students may elect to complete their study at this point. These students likely will be employed in a field in which they interact regularly with immigrants – social workers, educational counselors, pastoral workers and other members of religious congregations, and health care workers. Their specific training needs would focus on how to work successfully with immigrants, and not on immigration law. Others interested in adding to this foundational knowledge may decide to proceed to Module 2 and Module 3. Most students will begin the program by enrolling in this first module, although others who have relevant experience may enter directly into Module 2 or 3 with approval from CPS during the enrollment process.

 

MODULES 2 AND 3

Modules 2 and 3 focus on immigration law and practice and are designed to train people to apply to become Department of Justice (DOJ) partially accredited representatives (Module 2), or fully accredited representatives (Module 3).  

DOJ Recognition and Accreditation Program FAQ's

What is a Partially Accredited Representative?

A partially accredited representatives may represent clients before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), but not before the immigration courts. These cases are not adversarial in nature (there is no opposing counsel), generally involve requests for immigration benefits or humanitarian protection, and are completed through paper filings. Module II prepares students to become Partially Accredited Representatives.

In order to obtain DOJ accredited representative authorization, an accredited representative must work or volunteer for a DOJ “recognized organization.” As of today, most of the recognized organizations are non-governmental organizations that provide legal representation to immigrants, including many faithbased organizations.

What is a Fully Accredited Representative?

Fully accredited representative are authorized to appear before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), both of which reside in the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Court cases involve adversarial hearings before a judge with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lawyers representing the government. The majority of cases in immigration court focus on defense to deportation. The vast majority of the 2000 authorized accredited representatives are partially rather than fully accredited and are not authorized to represent clients in court. Module III prepares students to become Fully Accredited Representatives.

As mentioned above, in order to obtain DOJ accredited representative authorization, an accredited representative must work or volunteer for a DOJ “recognized organization.” As of today, most of the recognized organizations are non-governmental organizations that provide legal representation to immigrants, including many faithbased organizations.

 

Teaching Style

Our educational method is learner-centered and holistic

Students do not all learn in the same way, so we have designed the program to include an assorted selection of learning activities, readings, videos, reflections, interactive projects, discussions and assessments. Instead of teaching subjects as compartmentalized academic courses that require students to figure out how the subjects work together, we did that work for you. The subjects are interwoven in each unit so you can see the connection between everything you learn.

Our educational model teaches the skills and competencies needed for learners to serve as immigrant advocates and accredited legal representatives

We started backward by consulting with community stakeholders (e.g. lawyers, NGOs, migrants, potential students, retired immigration judges, etc.) and potential employers to develop a list of competencies that our graduates must have upon graduation. We then built a curriculum to teach to those specific competencies.

Our educational model is interdisciplinary

To best understand migration, you need to study it from various perspectives and disciplines. VIISTA’s team of renowned design faculty come from several academic departments – law, history, theology, cultural studies, public administration, writing, research – and bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds – they are lawyers, professors, retired immigration judges, and advocates.

Our educational model is practical

VIISTA’s focus is on active, project-based learning. Practical exercises are embedded throughout the curriculum. As you move through the program, you will build an online portfolio of documents and related materials that is directly applicable to and can be used in your work post-graduation.

Fast Facts

  • There are only 2,000 authorized accredited representatives, the majority of which are partially accredited; however, the demand for respresentation in court is much higher.
  • In order to obtain DOJ accredited representative authorization, an accredited representative must work or volunteer for a DOJ “recognized organization.” As of today, most of the recognized organizations are non-governmental organizations that provide legal representation to immigrants, including many faithbased organizations.
  • In US-based immigration adjudications, access to a legal representation is the primary determinant in obtaining a just outcome, “even more important than the strength of the underlying legal claim.”1 Yet, only “37 percent of all immigrants secured legal representation in their [immigration court] removal proceedings.”2
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 60 percent or more of immigrant women and children could be eligible for international protection, such as asylum or another form of humanitarian relief, if they had legal representation.
  • Research from New York City shows that immigrant children with lawyers win 87% of their cases, while children without lawyers win only 19% of the time.

 

1 Migration and Refugee Services, US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Center for Migration Studies, Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Reform that US Immigration Detention System, 3 Journal on Migration and Human Security, 159-204, at 194 (2015)

2 Ingrid Eagly and Steven Shafer, Assess to Counsel in Immigration Court, American Immigration Council, Sept. 28, 2016, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/access-counsel-immigration-court

Who Should Consider this Program?

  • Social justice-focused recent college graduates seeking a career path to provide services to the poor, who may be considering law school, but want to get a taste of it first;
  • Paralegals interested in supporting immigration lawyers;
  • Retirees, mid-career professionals or people who are reentering the workforce and want to do purposeful/meaningful work;
  • Pastoral workers and others in religious congregations, who interact closely with immigrants and want to know more about the law so they can better help their parishioners and communities;
  • Social workers, health care workers, educators in K-12, among others, who interact with immigrants through their current employment, and who plan to use the knowledge gained in this program to enhance their work with immigrants; and
  • Immigrants (legal permanent residents and naturalized US citizens) who are looking for a career path that would take advantage of their language skills, cultural understanding, while assisting people in their communities.
 

 

COURSE TOPICS  

Below is a list of topics that will be covered in the program. Some of these are thematic throughout the program, while others may be covered in a specific module.

Interviewing and Counseling

 

Interviewing and Counseling

Hot Topics in Immigration Law

 

Hot Topics in Immigration Law

Self and Communal Care

 

Self and Communal Care

Research Process

 

Research Process

Professional Development

 

Professional Development

Law and Legal Systems

 

Law and Legal Systems

Case Planning/Project Management

 

Case Planning/Project Management

Cross Cultural Understanding

 

Cross Cultural Understanding

Justice for Migrants

 

Justice for Migrants

Ethics

 

Ethics

Immigration Research and Ecosystems

 

Immigration Research and Ecosystems

The Stranger in History and Religious Tradition

 

The Stranger in History and Religious Tradition

Writing

 

Writing

CONTACT

Michele R. Pistone

Professor of Law & Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES)
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
pistone@law.villanova.edu
610-519-5286

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