David A. Clarke Law Students help Afghan evacuees through Immigration and Human Rights Clinic

David A. Clarke Law Students help Afghan evacuees through Immigration and Human Rights Clinic

David A. Clarke Law Students help Afghan evacuees through Immigration and Human Rights Clinic

University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) students have a long history of providing support and legal aid to those in need through its service-learning and nationally ranked clinical programs. Since August 2021, students in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) have focused on Afghan evacuees forced to flee the Taliban takeover.

A current UDC undergraduate student who served as a combat interpreter with the U.S. military in Afghanistan is just one of the people benefiting from these services. Although he is completing his studies in Washington, D.C., his family is still trapped in Afghanistan.

“We quickly worked to file humanitarian parole applications for his family members to try to help them evacuate,” said Lindsay M. Harris, associate dean of Clinical and Experiential Programs and director of the IHRC. “We have also started receiving calls from other people needing assistance.”

Students have also worked on the case of a prominent Afghan women’s rights activist forced to leave because of her work and ethnicity as a Hazara Shia. In addition, they’re helping an Afghan journalist who made it to Albania in his request to resettle in the U.S.

Harris’ students also gain field experience by providing legal orientations for Afghans living on a military base. Clinic and first-year students Neena Qureshi ’24 and Kendra Li ’24 joined Harris in leading information sessions that educate new arrivals fleeing Afghanistan on their rights and steps to gain asylum.

Qureshi previously worked as a partially accredited Board of Immigration Appeals representative at a resettlement agency in Rochester, New York. Having already worked with resettled refugees to complete various immigration forms, draft petitions and assist in gathering evidence to support applications for benefits, she has a solid foundation of knowledge.

“This experience reminded me that so many people need urgent help,” Qureshi said. “Almost everyone in Afghanistan is experiencing difficulties, but I am glad my experience prior to law school was able to provide some guidance and make a difference for someone’s future.”

Li’s experiences prior to law school also came in handy. She recently retired as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years from the U.S. Air Force. Prior to the trip to the base, Li studied the special immigrant visa process and became the group’s expert on helping those who attended the orientation navigate the process.

“The experience is both rewarding and heartbreaking,” Li said. “I truly appreciated the opportunity to play a part – however small – in the effort to make good on our promises to our Afghan allies.”

Services provided by law students in the IHRC include legal orientations and ‘know your rights’ presentations, as well as reunification family-based petitions and emergency humanitarian parole applications.

Students have been involved in client interviewing and counseling in a trauma-centered practice– working with people who often arrive shell-shocked after enduring harrowing escapes.

UDC Law’s Clinical Program includes eight clinics focused on several types of legal practice. Students in the day program are required to take two full semesters of clinic to graduate. Evening students enroll in one 10-credit clinical semester during the fall semester of their final year.

Law students across the program learn to leverage their skills to achieve desired outcomes, including congressional and legislative advocacy and using media coverage as a tool for change. They also gain experience working with interpreters and translators and drafting client declarations, which help tie the facts in individual cases to the legal elements required to establish eligibility for relief. Much of the program’s work is funded through donations from community members and alumni.

“This work provides incredible opportunities for students to engage in truly meaningful life-changing, cutting-edge work that prepares them to – as we say at UDC Law – practice law, promote justice and change lives,” Harris said.