Family Law

Clinic collaboration closes gap in access to justice for young immigrants

Student attorneys at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic collaborated on legislation that fundamentally changed the ability of at-risk non-citizen youth in Maine to obtain lawful permanent U.S. residence. Emily Arvizu ’20 and Anne Sedlack ’20, under the supervision of Clinical Professors Anna Welch and Christopher Northrop, coordinated a task force that included the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP); ILAP’s founder, Beth Stickney; Toby and Lucky Hollander; and Elyse Segovias ’10. Sedlack describes the project as an “amazing collaboration between the Juvenile Justice Clinic and the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic.”

They sought to close a gap in state law that left abandoned, abused, or neglected non-citizen youth between the ages of 18 and 21 without a pathway toward obtaining a green card. While federal immigration law considers this group to be children, they are adults under Maine law. The legislation drafted by the students extends the state court jurisdiction in parental rights and responsibilities, custody, and guardianship cases, and enables these youth to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Members of the task force, including Arvizu and Sedlack, testified before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which gave the bill its unanimous support. LD 1596, An Act to Enhance the Long-Term Stability of Certain At-Risk Youth, was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills ’76 on June 18, 2019.

Welch says the benefits of this new law are already evident. “Recently, a young adult whom the Clinic assisted in getting a predicate order was granted lawful permanent residence by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services and is now on a path to becoming a U.S. citizen,” she says. “This law was life changing for this individual because, absent this new law, the client would be at risk of deportation.”