It has long been a mission of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law to be of service to those who, for whatever reason, lack access to justice. And in modern times, no segment of American society has needed that access more than immigrants and their families. That’s why the law school founded its Immigration Clinic — and why everyone associated with it dutifully and proudly labors to aid legally imperiled individuals who are desperate to realize the American dream.
“All of us at the clinic feel needed all the time. And in a way, I feel lucky for that,” says professor Michael Kagan, director of the Immigration Clinic. “I have friends and relatives who ask me, when they are appalled at something they see in the news, ‘What can I do?’ For me the answer is really simple: I just show up for work.”
Heartbreaking headlines emanate from the US.-Mexico border, but spill over into cities throughout America, with Las Vegas particularly impacted. In some Clark County ZIP codes, Kagan says, one out of every three people were born in a foreign country, with many families housing citizens, immigrants with green cards, and those who are undocumented — sometimes all under one roof. “Every time we say we shouldn’t take on any more clients, another one calls and we just can’t turn them away,” Kagan says.
Kagan credits UNLV Law students for propelling the clinic forward when it’s most needed — and doing so with great zeal. “They are right there with us,” he says. “We’ve never seen so much enthusiasm. The students really push us to do more.”
Among them is Daniel Brady, who last year was a volunteer working on application renewals of “Dreamers” (as participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program are known). “That has been by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” says Brady, a student attorney at the clinic.
Brady recalls helping a with forms for a teenage high school student and her parents — neither of whom were comfortable speaking English. “I hadn’t spoken to her parents one on one, but as I walk them out, they turn to me and just say ‘Thank you,’ and the look of gratitude they had — I just can’t express it in words.”
It was a defining moment for Brady, one he couldn’t have experienced in a classroom lecture setting or studying for exams in the law library.
“The first year in law school you’re just in books, reading all these appellate decisions with abstract rulings,” he says. “But this was something that was real, where I could help somebody who didn’t know where they could go, and the Immigration Clinic was giving them a little guidance. It was a reality check on what law school is actually preparing you for, which is to help people.”
Preparing to launch her nascent legal career with a federal clerkship at U.S. District Court, former student attorney and recent Boyd graduate Margarita Elias enumerates her highlights with the clinic, including working on two appellate cases — one with the Board of Immigration Appeals, the other with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Yet another memorable accomplishment was taking part in a meeting with Nevada Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, who visited the clinic to learn about the challenges facing clients who were unaccompanied minors. “We got to bring in a few clients and an interpreter so they could speak to Ms. Rosen about how they got here, the violence and gangs they experienced in Central America, and why they need asylum relief,” says Elias, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who is awaiting the results of the bar exam she recently took.
“There’s been talk of wanting to place further restrictions on asylum relief for undocumented minors, and we wanted her to know why the system shouldn’t be any more difficult than it already is, so she would have something to take back to Congress to discuss.”