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CGJ Intern Update from Chelsea Mack

I recently completed my three-month internship with HIAS.  The last month of my time with the organization was spent in their headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.  During my time in the office, I was assigned a couple of cases where I met with clients during several appointments in order to complete their I-589 applications and declarations for the immigration courts.  The I-589 application allows an individual to apply for asylum along with other benefits.  A declaration is a summary of the applicant’s life story that gives factual, mental, and emotional details of the individual’s background and the reasons why the individual does not want to return to his or her home country.

There is a particular application that can be submitted to the immigration court on behalf of juveniles that is identified as “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” (SIJS).  The legal basis for a juvenile to qualify for SIJS is that the child must be abused, neglected, or abandoned by one parent.  SIJS cases are argued in state courts rather than federal courts such as other immigration cases.  Thus, state law is controlling authority.  This can prove to be a more challenging task for attorneys to find favorable controlling law if a state has not released an opinion on a case with similar fact patterns to the case that the attorney needs for their client.  Along with completing the I-589 applications and declarations for clients, I worked on developing a legal memo that provided a summary of Maryland case law that dealt with the three components (abuse, neglect, and abandonment) of a SIJS claim.

Additionally, I researched country conditions information to support cases for clients originating from Guatemala, Colombia, Cameroon, Sudan, and Serbia.  The research focused on various aspects of the countries and cultures including governmental structures, gender-based violence, law enforcement, religious persecution, and minority discrimination.  I thoroughly enjoyed the work that I was assigned because I was given the opportunity to interact with refugees, hear their stories, and complete reports and applications that will hopefully help them receive asylum in the United States.

Currently, there are many women and children fleeing Central America due to gang violence and gender-based violence.  Many of the potential clients I sat in intake interviews with fled from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala for these very reasons.  Each week the legal team at the headquarters meets to discuss which cases they will take based on the intake interviews conducted during the week.  They allowed me to sit in on these meetings to present some of the cases and to give input about whether the potential client’s story met the qualifications for a viable claim to accept them as a client.  Due to the requirements of the asylum and SIJS applications, we were not able to take on every individual’s case.  This reality was a bit difficult to grasp because many times the individual’s story was real and heartbreaking, but due to the legal requirements set by federal law, the story did not have the “right” set of facts in order to be a viable and successful claim.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to work with HIAS this summer.  The entire staff in the office is comprised of amazing individuals that truly desire to assist refugees in seeking safety for their families.  The legal team allowed me to jump right in and take control of cases while answering all questions that I had throughout the internship.  I feel blessed to be able meet individuals from countries around the world and learn more about the needs that still exist within the United States as well as abroad and the ways that I can help meet those needs using my legal skills.

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern.  The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.