Erik Gerding ’98 knew that fundraising, even for a good cause, is never easy. But as it turns out, when the cause is the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, it’s easier than might be expected.
Gerding is one of a group of HLS alumni at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton who felt their experience at Harvard’s clinic had been one of their best at HLS. They wanted to recognize “the tradition of teaching excellence” and give something back.
Housed at the Greater Boston Legal Services Center, the program has provided a clinical component for courses in immigration and human rights to hundreds of students since its founding in 1984. Students get credit for representing clients seeking asylum, who are fleeing human rights abuses. And even after graduation, Gerding says, he and other clinic alumni continue to consult with director Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84 and supervisors Nancy Kelly, John Willshire Carrera, and Eleanor Newhoff on pro bono immigration cases they do for Cleary, Gottlieb.
To show their appreciation, Gerding and other alumni decided to establish a summer fellowship at the clinic for an HLS student doing the kind of work they had found so rewarding.
“Raising the money was surprisingly easy,” Gerding said. “Debbie is one of the most effective voices in the field of immigration. People wanted to show their support for the clinic, especially at a time when federal funding is being cut.”
Cleary, Gottlieb joined in the HLS associates’ efforts, matching the funds to create the Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic Fellowship.
“We are deeply grateful for this demonstration of commitment from our alumni and for the opportunities that the fellowship provides,” said Anker, who has headed the clinic since 1988. “There is a desperate need for free representation of low-income persons and especially immigrants.”
The first fellow, Allison Brownell Tirres ‘01 (jointly enrolled in the J.D. program and the Ph.D. program in history at Harvard), spent the summer at the clinic assisting clients seeking asylum and helping to draft a policy report on the application of the one-year filing deadlines for asylum claims. She says the fellowship has allowed her both to work directly with clients and to advocate for changes in the regulations governing immigration. “I now have a much clearer sense of the way client services and advocacy depend on each other,” she said.