In the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, students serve as attorneys assisting low-income immigrants through a broad range of cases and projects. The RHRC and its attorneys target a critical gap in access to justice – providing direct legal representation and broader advocacy to immigrants and refugees seeking political asylum and similar protections under federal law. Equally important, the RHRC trains future attorneys in the field of immigration law, familiarizing them with the legal landscape even before they graduate. The RHRC serves a broad client base. Some examples of our clientele include asylum applicants who fled human rights abuses in their home countries and are seeking refuge, immigrant survivors of domestic violence, and abandoned or abused children seeking legal status in the United States.
The Clinic enrolls approximately six to eight students every semester who earn four to six credit hours upon successful completion of the course. Under faculty supervision, student attorneys develop substantive knowledge of immigration and human rights laws and norms while also building core legal skills relevant to the general practice of law. Students receive close guidance throughout the course under the supervision of Founding Director and Professor Anna Welch, Supervising Attorney and Lecturer Sara Cressey, and Adjunct Clinical Professor and Outreach and Advocacy Attorney Erica Schair-Cardona
Clinical work for students includes: interviewing clients and witnesses, preparing testimony, working with interpreters and translators, conducting factual and legal investigation and marshaling of evidence, analyzing and presenting human rights documentation, developing case strategies, writing legal briefs, appearing in administrative and federal court proceedings, and participating in human rights advocacy projects. Students work with coalitions of lawyers to engage with immigrants being held in detention regionally and at the U.S./Mexico border and on larger impact litigation. Additionally, more local students have opportunities to collaborate with local nonprofit organizations and community groups on a range of advocacy projects directly benefiting new arrivals to Maine. The RHRC is distinct from many other clinics in the country because students act as attorneys under the supervision and direction of faculty, not the other way around. This allows them to graduate with a wealth of experiential knowledge many do not gain until they have entered the workforce.