By Hanne Sandison, J.D. ’16
I knew I wanted to be involved in the clinical programs before I came to Harvard my 1L year. One of the main things that drew me to the school was its plethora of clinical programs, allowing me to gain real world experience and figure out who I wanted to be as lawyer. Participating in various clinics – the International Human Rights Clinic, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Crimmigration Clinic, and two independent clinicals during J-Term – have helped me find my strengths and passion while surrounding me with mentors and colleagues I respect, admire, and enjoy.
Working in the Crimmigration Clinic this semester has been a unique and fascinating capstone to my law school career. Crimmigration (the intersection of criminal law and immigration law) is a relatively new and constantly evolving legal discipline. The law is always changing, and advocates are constantly trying to find creative solutions to new problems. In the Crimmigration Clinic we have the unique opportunity to interact with both criminal defense and immigration legal spheres, as criminal laws affect clients in immigration proceedings, and a client’s immigration status affects their priorities in criminal court.
This semester, I was fortunate to work with Philip Torrey and Sabrina Lee, J.D. ’17 on three distinct projects. We worked with the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) on a toolkit to help their defense attorneys avoid criminal convictions that would carry additional immigration consequences (such as deportation). Drastic budget cuts in criminal representation have left OPD underfunded and without immigration specialists, putting their immigrant clients in a precarious legal position. To help fill this gap, OPD sent us a list of commonly-charged misdemeanors in New Orleans, and we put together a manual to help their defense attorneys understand the immigration consequences of certain convictions – specifically whether such a conviction would lead to deportation.
My colleagues and I also worked on a project to map out the Massachusetts drug schedules – a tool that will help immigration advocates know how best to advocate for clients with drug convictions on their records.
Finally, I was able to partner with the Criminal Justice Institute and work with one student attorney on a case involving a non-citizen client. Here I was able to see where the rubber hits the road, and how criminal convictions can impact the ability of non-citizens to stay in this country. Working with CJI put a face and a story to the many statutes and cases we had read and digested throughout the semester.
While I find the most joy in working directly with and advocating for clients, my experience in the Crimmigration Clinic showed me how imperative it is to have capable and passionate people working at all levels and doing all types of legal work. Policy work, impact litigation, advising, and direct client services all work in harmony to create a more just and equitable system for those most vulnerable to abuse and neglect. I am excited to continue to be a part of this talented and inspiring community of lawyers, and I feel honored to have learned from and with them.