LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
As director of the new immigration law clinic at the University of Arkansas, Elizabeth Young said she and her students would help clients through the dense web of regulations governing those coming to the United States.
Arkansas has become home to one of the nation’s fastest-growing immigrant Hispanic populations, leaving the state’s few immigration lawyers with unmanageable pro bono caseloads, Young said, adding that the load grew after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, as the number of annual deportations across the nation more than tripled, rising to about 350,000.
The clinic will handle such immigration issues as deportation, requests for political asylum and applications for citizenship based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. The operation will be staffed with four students working about 25 hours a week each for its first semester of operations. Later, it will expand to as many as eight students a semester.
The university’s law school already has several clinics allowing students to work for defense attorneys and prosecutors, and students petitioned for an immigration clinic, Young said.
The university hired Young, 31, away from the George Washington School of Law’s Immigration Clinic. Young, a native of the Johnson County town of Lamar, acknowledged the complexity of immigration law, which often involves those detained to be identified by numbers only and sent to jails out of state.
“You get immersed in it and you have to fight your way through it,”’ Young said.
In 2007, the Mexican government opened a consulate in Little Rock to offer some legal aid to its citizens. Still, the need for the UA clinic remains, especially as Arkansas also draws Hmong immigrants to the state, Young said.
Immigration is a politically sensitive issue in the state, where Gov. Mike Beebe has often used the refrain “illegal means illegal.”
Young said teaching students to represent immigrants would prove valuable for their careers practicing the law.
“Students need to learn how to represent all people,” she said. “A law school should focus on being able to represent a broad range of clients. Our students aren’t going to go out and just represent corporations. They’re going to go out and represent a whole range of people.”
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