February 28, 2013
Last summer, Catherine Cooper worked with the Immigration Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). The main focus of GBLS is providing direct services to local clients in a variety of areas, such as housing, employment and welfare. The immigration unit primarily represents low-income immigrants in asylum interviews and hearings before the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Catherine loved working at GBLS and thought it was a great place to supplement her immigration work at HLS with a more intensive hands-on experience.
Because the department is relatively small (4 attorneys focus primarily on asylum), Catherine was able to take the lead on working with several clients and followed their cases through the summer. Some of her clients included Ugandan asylees seeking political asylum in the U.S. One of her central tasks was preparing a comprehensive documentation (up to 500 pages) for the immigration judge that detailed the political situation in the home country and the specific details of the client’s history and persecution. Catherine gathered the evidence for the interview or hearing by interviewing the client to draft an affidavit (often over several sessions), collecting personal corroborating documentation (everything from immigration documents to medical records), obtaining expert affidavits from doctors and psychologists, and compiling supporting human rights reports
Catherine found the most rewarding part of the experience was the close personal bonds she made with her clients. For this type of work, the bond was especially important, since she had to develop enough trust to discuss sensitive matters involving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or the nature of the client’s torture. Another plus for students interested in immigration is that because GBLS is close in proximity to Harvard, you can continue to help out with your cases after the summer as they progress. That isn’t often the case with most summer positions.
Catherine plans to stay involved with her clients this year through the Immigration Clinic at HLS, which also places students at GBLS during the school year. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that like many legal aid offices, the office environment is somewhat hectic, because there are a ton of open cases and few staff. Students should be flexible and willing to help with whatever is needed on a particular day.
Catherine strongly recommends GBLS for people interested in trying immigration services in an office with great managing attorneys. Because the summer experience gives the opportunity for a full time commitment, whereas the HLS Immigration Clinic only allows for 10-20 hours a week, it’s a great place to get in-depth, hands-on experience with real clients.