The International and Comparative Human Rights Practicum in India: A Hands-On Approach to Cross-Cultural Advocacy

Learning to work collaboratively across cultures, think creatively about relationships between law and organizing, and handle the myriad of challenges working with vulnerable, migrant populations are only some of the benefits that U.S. and Indian law students gain by participating in the International and Comparative Human Rights Practicum program. Born out of a relationship between U.S. and Indian law faculty through the Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE), Fatma Marouf (HLS ‘02) helped develop this unique Practicum, based in New Delhi, in order to bring together an interdisciplinary group of students to work in a hands-on environment on important human rights issues.

Marouf, a professor at William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Co-Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic, worked closely with Indian colleagues Anannya Bhattacharjee at the Society for Labour and Development (SLD), Dr. Moushumi Basu, a professor at Jawaharal Nehru University’s School of International Studies, and Khadijah Faruqui, a distinguished women’s rights lawyer, to build a program where students could take their classroom experience into a real world setting. Three other HLS ’02 graduates and alumni of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic — Jennifer Rosenbaum, Sabi Ardalan, and Dustin Sharp– have co-taught the Practicum, contributing to its great success.

Over the course of several weeks, students work with low wage migrant workers in a variety of industries ranging from construction to garment. From interviewing and fact-finding, to documenting and gaining cross-cultural competence, students learn invaluable skill sets as they witness first-hand the value of organizing and building grassroots power among workers. In addition, the dynamic nature of the work allow students learn to approach the issues from different angles, confronting their own implicit cultural biases while simultaneously obtaining a more expansive framework for problem solving than what they traditionally learn in the classroom.

The students’ work culminates in valuable capstone projects focused on research and advocacy that benefits SLD’s current work portfolios. In recent years, students have addressed a range of topics including: the relationship between forced labor and health in the garment industry, the implementation of India’s new anti-sexual harassment law, trafficking and abuse of domestic workers, violations of freedom of association and right to organize, and many more.

“Their research is dynamic and impactful,” says Marouf, “and it often turns up critical new facts, such as systemic gaps in the reporting of workplace injuries.”

While the projects are comprehensive and practical, one of the most important lessons students learn is navigating new and challenging experiences without losing a sense of optimism.

“Over time they become more comfortable tackling large-scale problems that initially seem overwhelming without losing hope,” explains Marouf.

The scale of the problems that the students tackle are big, but overtime through the Practicum, the students become more confident in their ability to address complex issues. Applying the lessons they learn in the classroom to their real world research and advocacy, students are able to utilize their legal coursework and skill sets to help bring to light some of the human rights violations faced by many migrant workers in India. The Practicum is an extraordinarily valuable experience for both U.S. and Indian students and creates a partnership that has fostered good will and cross-cultural connections that last well beyond the few weeks spent in India.

 

 

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Fatma Marouf received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002.

Fatma Marouf received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002. She now teaches immigration law and international human rights law at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is Co-Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic. Marouf is grateful for the help, commitment, and support of her close friends and fellow alumni of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic who have contributed to its great success.

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2015 Summer Legal Internship at HIRC

Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Summer Legal Internship at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC). The legal intern will work on cases involving direct representation of individuals from around the world seeking asylum and other humanitarian protections. The legal intern may also work on appellate and policy advocacy at the local, national, and international levels.

Candidates should have excellent academic credentials, superior research and writing skills and an interest in immigration and asylum law. Outstanding interpersonal skills, along with flexibility, sense of humor and passion for direct service work required. Ability to work sensitively with diverse populations is essential. Second language capability in Spanish or French preferred, but not required. Non-Harvard students are welcome to apply.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis through May 1, 2015. To apply, please send the following to hirc@law.harvard.edu as one PDF file with your last name in the file name:

-Current resume

-Cover letter detailing any prior relevant experience (including any immigration, asylum, or clinical education experiences) and explaining your interest in the Clinic.

Note: This is an unpaid opportunity.

If you have any questions, please email us at hirc@law.harvard.edu.

Internships for undergraduate students are also available. To find out more, email hirc@law.harvard.edu.

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Katrina Fleury Reflects on Winter Term Experience in Karnes, TX

The asylum seekers currently detained in Karnes, Texas may be far away from Boston, but for students at Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC), the issues and work couldn’t be closer to home. This past winter break a group of Harvard law students spent part of their January term volunteering and providing pro-bono work to Central American women and children held at the Karnes detention center.

Combining what she learned in the classroom and at HIRC, Katrina Fleury (HLS ’16) spent part of her January term working with the asylum seekers in Texas. She recently provided HIRC with a description of her experience and why she believes the work being done there is so important.

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Katrina Fleury is a 2L at Harvard Law School.

HIRC: How did your experience at HIRC prepare you for volunteering at the Karnes detention center?

KF: The clinic at Harvard was invaluable; I don’t think I would have been an effective advocate at the detention center without it.  During the semester clinical course we learned about the asylum process and the necessary elements to prove an asylum case.  It’s critical to understand those in order to prepare detainees to explain their stories during their credible fear interviews.

HIRC: What was a big difference between the work at Karnes and your experience at HIRC?

KF: One of the biggest contrasts with the clinic was how detention center work required a drastically different approach to interviewing and advising clients.  In the clinic, students are assigned a client to work with over the course of the semester. The client is generally not detained and the court date is often months or a year or more away.  The theory of the case comes to light slowly throughout weekly interviews as students develop trust with the client and she/he gradually reveals traumatic details.

In the detention center, you have an hour or two with the asylum seeker to understand his/her story, figure out if he/she potentially qualifies for asylum, and then help the asylum seeker practice explaining it for the credible fear interview.

This means having to ask those sensitive questions regarding horrific events and delve into the details of painful experiences the client often has never revealed before to anyone.  As you hear story after story, with details of rape, murder, violence, and unimaginable examples of human cruelty, you have to find a way to remove yourself.  What I learned quickly was that you end up compartmentalizing what you hear. I was still listening and understanding the stories and trauma, but not quite fully processing it.

At the end of the day, I was often physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  One way to get over this was to do something fun, spend time with loved ones, or watch something funny to remind you that while humanity has the ability to be unspeakably cruel, it is still capable of compassion and love.

HIRC: What do you think the biggest obstacle facing many of the asylum seekers at Karnes is right now?

KF: The biggest obstacle facing asylum seekers is getting to speak to an attorney or volunteer before their credible fear interviews.  Receiving a positive determination from the asylum officer is crucial.  If the asylum officer rules positively, the detainee is usually released on bond and continues his/her asylum claim elsewhere.  If he/she receives a negative determination, an immigration judge can review the decision, but the judge’s review is limited and often upholds the asylum officer’s original determination.

Even if the asylum seeker has a potentially valid asylum claim, the interview is filled with legal questions that are often confusing to the asylum seekers and often fail to reveal the entire story.  For example, one question often asked during credible fear interviews is: “Have you ever been threatened or harmed on account of your membership in a particular social group?”  Most women who have suffered domestic violence would say no, even though asylum recognizes that gender constitutes membership in a particular social group and domestic violence can be the basis of a claim for asylum.  Or the same question, but on account of “political opinion.”  Most people think politics and political parties when they hear that question and automatically say no.  But under asylum law, political opinion includes feminist actions and beliefs, like pursuing independence from a male-dominated society and refusing to submit to the societal norms for women.

Just spending an hour speaking with the women about what happened to them and explaining the types of interview questions and what the questions are actually trying to ask makes a world of a difference in their credible fear interview outcomes. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough volunteers and lawyers currently there to be able to reach every woman and child.

HIRC: Did you feel you were able to make a difference during the short time you were volunteering?

KF: One personal difference that I was able to make involved a case of one particular woman.  She wasn’t able to meet with us prior to her credible fear interview or immigration judge review, and she received negative determinations both times.

In general, there isn’t much that can be done at that point, especially if you don’t have a private lawyer.  Pro bono lawyers and organizations are strapped for resources and unlikely to take on the case that has almost no chance of succeeding yet requires many hours of work.  I spoke with her for several hours that week.  I felt deeply troubled by the way the asylum officer spoke to her in her interview, and how despite such a strong claim, she had been slighted by the system.

I knew it was crazy, a long shot, but I felt compelled to help.  The realization that I was truly her last option weighed on me.  My supervising attorneys, John and Nancy, graciously agreed to let me take on her case with their guidance, even though January-term was ending and they themselves were swamped with so many cases.  So I wrote her affidavit, drafted a request for re-interview letter, and worked with the family to get supporting documents sent.  We communicated with the asylum office about the documents and what we were doing, and they agreed to stay her removal order until they reviewed our request.

We were astounded a few days ago when the asylum office decided to reverse their initial negative credible fear determination and instead grant her a credible fear.  This is almost unheard of.  Now we are working with her on the bond hearing paperwork, and hopefully she will be released soon.

HIRC: What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

KF: My experience reminds me of the poem, “The Starfish Story,” and how much it sums up my motivations and reasons for pursuing a career in immigration and asylum law:

The Starfish Story

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

 

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Now Accepting Applications: 2015 Cleary Gottlieb Summer Fellowship at HIRC

PLEASE NOTE: THE APPLICATION DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED.

THE NEW DEADLINE IS JANUARY 23, 2015.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Cleary Gottlieb Summer Fellowship at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC). The summer fellow will work on cases involving direct representation of individuals from around the world seeking asylum and other humanitarian protections. The fellow may also work on appellate and policy advocacy at the local, national and international levels. To apply, please submit a résumé, cover letter, and two references to hirc@law.harvard.edu. Applications are due January 23, 2015.

Note: The Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship is open to Harvard law students only. Other unpaid summer internships are available at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. Please send a cover letter and resume to hirc@law.harvard,edu to apply.

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HIRC Clients Granted Asylum


HIRC students recently landed two exciting victories for asylum clients seeking refuge in the United States following traumatic experiences in their home countries.

Escaping LGBT Persecution in West Africa

Over the course of a year, Sophie Glickstein ’15 and Sussan Lee ’15 worked extensively on the asylum case of a gay West African man, ostracized by his community and physically assaulted for his sexual orientation. The man originally arrived in the United States in 2010, and unsuccessfully applied for asylum without the help of an attorney, before being referred to HIRC by Immigration Equality, an NGO that supports and represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) asylum seekers in the United States. Glickstein and Lee began their work on the case in September 2013.

In order to prepare for the case, Glickstein and Lee interviewed the client and conducted country conditions research on the state of LGBT people in his home country, focusing on the threats to the client from his tribe, from his community and from rising conservatism and Islamic extremism in his home country. The danger to the client was quite evident, according to Glickstein. In a series of incidents, the client was attacked under the suspicion that he was gay. “After his true orientation was discovered, he would almost certainly have been killed by tribal, community, or family members if he’d stayed in his home country,” Glickstein said.

The traumatic and sensitive nature of this experience made the story difficult to relive, a process that is necessary for court preparations. Glickstein and Lee worked to earn the trust of the client, so that he could feel safe and comfortable sharing his story. “Through our many and lengthy meetings with the client, we were able to build that baseline of trust and able to thoroughly represent him and prepare him for his direct and cross examinations in court,” Lee said.

The initial immigration court hearing, where the client testified, took place in April, but there was not enough time to present the expert witness testimony so the judge continued the case to September, to allow for testimony by the expert witnesses. Glickstein and Lee had to re-prepare the expert witnesses and closing argument for the September date; however, when their day in court arrived, the judge made her decision without needing to hear the extra testimony. “Even though we knew we had a strong case, we were stunned,” Lee said.

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Sophie Glickstein ’15 (right) and Sussan Lee ’15 (center) enjoy a celebratory breakfast with their client (left) after receiving the good news that he had been granted asylum.

It was four years between the client’s arrival in the United States and the asylum victory. Glickstein counts herself lucky to have contributed to the client’s journey towards asylum: “He is extraordinarily resilient and has survived so much to get to where he is today.”


 An East African Woman’s Flight from Political Persecution

HIRC students Yana Mereminsky ’15 and Eszter Vincze ’15 collaborated on the case of an East African woman who was attacked based on her opposition to the current government. The client’s opposition was seen as threatening to the government’s power, and security forces targeted and tortured her and her family, killing her relatives and forcing her into hiding. “It eventually became clear to my client that if she did not escape, government forces would find her soon and probably kill her,” Mereminsky said. Vincze and Mereminsky began working on the case in the fall of 2013 to prepare the client for her immigration court hearing.

With a hearing scheduled in March 2014, Mereminsky and Vincze researched the policies of the client’s home country and the government’s attacks on members of the opposition and the client’s tribe. The two students worked closely with various witnesses, ranging from physicians and psychologists to country conditions experts to friends and family of the client to corroborate the story in her application for asylum. According to Vincze, however, the most important efforts were towards preparing the client to testify at trial, as well as practicing direct and cross-examination with the various expert witnesses.

 The client experienced extreme trauma, which added another challenge to the case, as the client often had difficulty telling her story. Along with the client’s medical and psychological team at the Boston Center for Health and Human Rights, Mereminsky and Vincze worked hard to prepare the client to testify in court, while also being sensitive to the trauma she had suffered; the final product was a great accomplishment for the whole team, and the results filled Mereminsky with “great pride and admiration for [her] client’s strength.”

 The hearing in March 2014 was just as emotionally taxing; a tough cross-examination by the government attorney and a lengthy proceeding left both the client and the legal team drained. The team’s victory in September 2014 came far sooner than expected, as the judge had scheduled the team to come back to court in April 2015, for a decision to be handed down at that time. Both Mereminsky and Vincze were pleased with the results. “The relief that she wouldn’t be sent back to further violence was immense,” said Vincze of the decision.

 For Mereminsky, the victory was a formative moment in her legal career: “…when I heard the news, I felt like it signified the most worthwhile experience of my law school career. I can genuinely say that in the course of law school, I am most proud of the work I’ve done for HIRC.”

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