Albany Law students get firsthand experience helping asylum seekers

While the work was challenging — especially during a pandemic —Albany Law School students, faculty and alumni worked together this past fall to bring hope to several asylum seekers in the largest refugee tent city on the US-Mexico Border.

According to a story on the school’s news website, students based all over the U.S. and as far as Italy worked with staff from The Justice Center’s Immigration Law Clinic alongside supervising attorneys at the law firm Ballard Spahr LLP.

Each assisted asylum seekers living in Matamoros, Mexico, with asylum applications for Project Corazon, an offshoot of Lawyers for Good Government.

“When I started doing this, I had a little bit of background, but there is no head start when you pick up that paper and get on the phone with a client for the first time,” said David Fernandez, a lawyer at Ballard who facilitated the project. “Every single story was, and is, completely unique.”

Immigration Law Clinic Staff Attorney Julina Guo agreed.

“Students are passionate about the current plight of asylum seekers, and it’s wonderful that they had an opportunity to become directly involved. We are thankful that Ballard could provide resources and linguistic support for all of our students,” said Guo in the news article. “This is also a challenging project where students learned that they can impact the lives of people who need practical help. That is the heart of what being a good attorney is.”

Being a part of the asylum case process, students learned about the tedious paperwork involved in lawyering as well as the conditions of the border camps and the struggles the asylum seekers face as they fled their home countries.

Because of COVID, the normal face-to-face client meetings were on hold, so students learned firsthand the art of lawyering in the virtual space — first by phone and later through Zoom.

The work was difficult, but being a part of the client’s journey was unforgettable for many Albany Law students.

“It definitely impacted me to see the conditions in Matamoros, but we had an opportunity to make a change in a very positive direction,” said second-year student Matthew Geiling in the news article. “We were a small part in a big change.”

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