Reflections of HIRC – By Isabelle Sauriol

L-R: Micah Stein, HLS ’15 and Isabelle Sauriol, HIRC Summer Interns 2013

Isabelle Sauriol, a 2013 L.L.B. graduade from the University of Montreal, was a summer intern at HIRC. You can find her biography in our previous blog post introducing all 2013 summer fellows. An abbreviated version of the following post was recently featured on the blog of the Office for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.


By Isabelle Sauriol

When my coordinator at the NGO for asylum-seekers Action Réfugiés Montréal forwarded me an internship ad for the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, my first reaction was a mixture of excitement and surprise. While several local and international organizations aimed at helping refugees exist in Canada – such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, the UNHCR and Legal Aid lawyers for instance – the concept of a university clinic specialized in immigration was new to me. Imagine my surprise when, while browsing through the site of the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, I discovered that Harvard Law School had 27 pro-bono clinics, covering a variety of fascinating specialties such as Housing Law, Shareholders Rights and Veterans Law Clinic!

I arrived in the middle of Spring 2013 – just in time to witness Cambridge’s gorgeous cherry trees blossom – as outgoing Harvard graduates were bidding farewell to their breathtaking university campus. Located on Everett Street inside the brand new Wasserstein Hall, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) is an intern’s dream come true. While the place is unique in and of itself – filled with natural light, welcoming photos and captivating artwork – it’s the people occupying it that make the Clinic so special. One immediately feels at home in the friendly work environment of HIRC, where laughter, opinions (and candy consumption!) are encouraged.

Working with refugees can be challenging at times, given the constant need to adapt oneself to the cultural and religious backgrounds and often tremendously difficult pasts of each client. But as HIRC Fellow Emily Leung puts it, it is first and foremost an “incredibly rewarding experience.” Professor Deborah Anker and her team have made it their mission to help out this vulnerable population by extending the limits of the law by way of amicus briefs and conferences on topics such as gender-based asylum claims and gang-related asylum, as well as by exploring creative interpretations of asylum law.

Interning at HIRC provided me with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with various immigration processes such as asylum, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), under the supervision of two amazing lawyers, the Clinic’s own Phil Torrey and Sabrineh Ardalan. Together, we conducted interviews with asylum seekers and gathered evidence to corroborate our clients’ cases through country conditions research, medical expertise and psychological reports.  I also had the privilege of exploring some of the fascinating course material offered to HLS students, such as Crimmigration: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Immigration Law and a reading group on Trauma, Human Rights and Refugee Law.

I left the Clinic at a watershed moment: in the midst of the comprehensive immigration reform debate in the U.S. Senate. At the time of this writing, the United States appears to be willing to move forward with several progressive provisions for immigrants (although they have yet to be finalized). Canada, on the other hand, has adopted a stricter attitude towards immigration in recent years, freezing, abolishing, and tightening government programs aimed at refugees, humanitarian applications, family reunification, and entrepreneurship. But if there is one thing that interning at HIRC taught me, it is to not get discouraged in the face of challenging immigration cases or strict policies. At the end of the day, as U.S. President Barack Obama wisely explained in his Las Vegas speech on comprehensive immigration reform: “This is not just a debate about policy.  It’s about people.  It’s about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way.

Isabelle Sauriol
Université de Montréal ’13 L.L.B. Graduate
Law student at Bertrand, Deslauriers LLP