They put their heart into this work. Work that can gladden the heart. And shatter the heart.
“It’s difficult to ask anybody, let alone kids, to tell you about the worst thing that’s ever occurred to them,” Laura Barrera states, “and that’s essentially my task.”
Barrera is an attorney with the UNLV Immigration Center, whose pro bono mission is to train trainee lawyers to represent immigrants in deportation procedures. The majority of their customers are unaccompanied immigrant kids– most showing up in America with trauma already burdening their young lives. The proceedings in court choose the course of their lives: You can stay. You must go.
“These cases can be extremely in-tense and require a fragile balance between being mentally associated with the case and preserving a professional range,” says Barrera, who functions as the clinic’s Equal Justice Works Justice AmeriCorps Fellow.
Harassment and risks of violence from Central American street gangs is the significant men-ace bearing down on the center’s tender-age clients– largely from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, some as young as 4 years old, and up into their teenagers. Yet other scaries are revealed when these children are gently prodded for details to assist attorneys prepare their cases.
We’ve had some children who talk about being beaten,” states Martha Arellano, who for the past 3 years has actually served as the clinic’s administrative assistant and interpreter/translator, working as a channel between attorneys and the kids. “What’s even harder is that they believe they deserved it. ‘Well, I was beaten, however it’s be-cause I did this.’ That makes it even harder to pay attention to.
“We’ve had other kids who have had a close relative, a grandma or a parent who was shot and eliminated. It is difficult to comprehend that it ends up being just a part of life for any person– however for a child? It’s tough to obtain through it.”
On the case given that 2003– now with approximately 110 open cases on its crowded docket– the center’s mission is more relevant than ever. That became starkly clear when the Trump administration canceled the $1.8 million in financing for the AmeriCorps effort that supplied lawyers for unaccompanied minors– minors who face legal representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as an often-baffling web of migration laws.
In 2015, the center was one of the very first 7 entities– and the only law school– to get the AmeriCorps grant, which was the seed for the clinic’s brand-new Edward M. Bernstein & & Associates Kid’s Rights Program. The program is named in honor of the respected Las Vegas lawyer who earlier this year made a $250,000 contribution to ensure that the program will continue after the AmeriCorps grant ends November 1. (On that day, Barrera will end up being the center’s first Bernstein Fellow.)
“It’s extremely hard to be nonpartisan when you work on migration, however the reality is we are at the cutting edge combating the legal battles over the future of this nation,” states center Director Michael Kagan about the immigrant-infused demographic makeup of Clark County. Consider the stats: 22 percent of Clark County homeowners are foreign-born, and a language aside from English is spoken in 34 percent of houses here, as mentioned by the U.S. Census. And according to the Pew Proving Ground, 7.2 per-cent of Nevada’s population was undocumented in 2014– topping Texas and California.
Hammering home the point: Census Bureau data jobs that the present racial/ethnic mix of the Las Vegas Valley mirrors what the rest of America will appear like by 2060. That makes Las Vegas– not New York, Chicago, or San Francisco– a model for the future of the country. “Las Vegas today represents exactly what New york city’s Lower East Side was a hundred years earlier, which’s why [the Immigration Center] is so essential,” Kagan states. “It’s something we must be proud of.”
Putting the center’s purpose in perspective, Kagan compares it to a mentor health center. “The students do more work for our customers than even rich individuals would have the ability to spend for if they employed a private attorney,” he says. “It’s terrific for the students and the customers likewise, because not only do they get representation, however while trainees don’t bring a great deal of experience, they bring fresh eyes and in-credible dedication.”
That complimentary representation is a life-line to immigrants in alarming situations. “People who require our services, it’s not a luxury,” Arellano states. “They either can pay the rent or pay a lawyer.”
Mayra Salinas-Menjivar is among the clinic’s alumni who is more familiar than many with their clients’ needs: At age 7, she showed up in Las Vegas from El Salvador with her mother. “She lived through the civil war in El Salvador, so after that she chose it was time to leave,” Salinas-Menjivar says of her mother.
Salinas-Menjivar acknowledges that her own experiences dealing with the migration system– she filed her own petition for permanent residency after she turned 18– inspired her to become a legal representative.
“I recognized how much [immigrants], especially in the Hispanic community, require trustworthy lawyers they can trust, which was among the reasons I chose to go to law school,” states Salinas, a 2017 graduate of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law who took the bar examination in July. “We need more great individuals to join the occupation. I wished to return to individuals in similar situations, and the center has provided me with the chance to do just that.”
That journey from immigrant to immigration attorney, Kagan states, is demonstrative of the clinic’s positive impact on society. “She is here for her legal abilities, not because of where she originated from. However that somebody who showed up here as a kid refugee can finish from law school is what this is everything about,” he says. “My own wife’s grandpa came to this country as an unaccompanied minor. I wish to look at all our clients not just as customers who need help today, however for exactly what they can do and exactly what their grandchildren will do for this community and this country.”
Making it through the process, however, can be difficult, as Barrera notes when recalling a 15-year-old client who was trying to get away the recruitment efforts of the unsafe MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang. One of the biggest gangs in Central America, MS-13 members stalked the teenage young boy, even surrounding his home all night on one occasion. That particular night, when the gang members lastly dispersed, the young boy ran away for the United States
. He boarded a bus, crossing land verge on foot so regarding avoid detection by the border patrol. Then while traveling by boat across the Rio Grande, he almost drowned when the boat capsized. Ultimately, he was gotten by the border patrol and reunited with relative in Las Vegas.
Regrettably, making it through such a bold escape is just the first step to starting life anew in America, where the quirks of migration law frequently create legal road-blocks. As Barrera notes, in some cases there is little doubt that an immigrant is in danger, however the threat is not “for the best factor”– i.e., persecution based on race, faith, national-ty, or political views.
When bad news does come, however, Barrera states she is satisfied with the grace of her clients and their households. She offers an example of one such client: “He got sort of peaceful and looked down, but his father thanked me for our assistance and just asked me to let him know exactly what the next step was. They never get angry or blame me. Sometimes I think of how Americans would take news like that.”
Critical to the procedure is the work of interpreters to bridge the language gap between attorneys and clients, who are extremely Spanish-speaking children from Central America. Toward that end, a brand-new program that started in the fall semester– one that works in tandem with UNLV’s Department of World Languages and Cultures– gives trainees who are training as interpreters real-work experience in clinic cases. It also advises law students the best ways to work with interpreters to communicate with customers. “It’s a positive for the child, since they feel it’s somebody who speaks their language and they feel more comfy with this individual than with the real lawyer who does not speak [their] language,” says Elena Gandia Garcia, a teacher in the World Languages department who heads the brand-new program.
Reducing the scenario even further is Arellano’s usage of the clinic’s playroom, which offers a non-threatening environment for the youngest children to state their story. With lawyers and other center personnel present, Arellano will play UNO and other video games, and utilize numerous arts and crafts strategies in hopes of coaxing important details of the children’s lives to support their cases. “Sometimes we have them paint us a photo of their house back in their nation: ‘This is where we see the bad people, and this is our house,'” she says. “We’re aiming to get their story out no matter how dreadful it is, so something great can come out of it, if it assists them remain in this country.”
That, after all, is the point of the enthusiasm for the staff of the UNLV Migration Center. “For the most parts, if we didn’t represent our customers, nobody would,” Kagan says. “We teach the students that you’ve got to be really sharp on the law, but you also have to be excellent with individuals– people who’ve experienced things that ideally you never ever will.”
That’s why they’re on the case … after case … after case …