As I look back on my three years, my involvement with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) has without a doubt been one of the most rewarding parts of my law school career. As a first generation Mexican-American who was raised on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border, being an advocate for the immigrant community is something I have always been passionate about. Fortunately, at HLS there are many ways you can become involved in immigration advocacy.
I first became involved in this space my 1L year as an interpreter for HIRC and the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a related student practice organization (SPO). First-year students cannot enroll in a clinic, but they can become active in SPOs to develop client advocacy skills. I regrettably did not apply to HIP because I was too worried about the demands of 1L year. However, serving as an interpreter for asylum hearing prep sessions still allowed me to make an impact without straining my schedule. I was overjoyed when the client I served as an interpreter for was ultimately granted asylum!
My 2L year I continued interpreting for HIRC and HIP. Enrollment in HIRC is lottery-based, not by application, so due to the large volume of interest I did not get a fall semester spot my 2L year. Nevertheless, I was still able to get involved in the clinic beyond serving as an interpreter. I asked the Assistant Director of HIRC, Sabi Ardalan ’02, if I could enroll in the clinic as an Independent Clinical student for our January Term (known as J-Term). To my delight, she was willing to accommodate me and I was able to have a very fulfilling three weeks. I prepared and submitted applications for asylum and other forms of immigration protection for three clients. I was also fortunate to be introduced to one client who I actually ended up working with towards almost the end of her asylum case.
My 3L year I secured a fall semester spot in the clinic and it ended up being the most rewarding learning experience in all of my three years. I worked on a few cases, but predominantly worked on the asylum case for the client I had met during J-Term. We met at least three times a week during the semester and as a result grew very close. I worked on submitting her filing in November and crafting her affidavit (her personal declaration). Because I grew very invested in her case and wanted to extend, Sabi once again allowed me to work in the clinic during J-Term so that I could represent her at the hearing. I was excited to see the case through every step of the way.
To our chagrin, the government shutdown prevented our client’s hearing from happening. It will probably be rescheduled after I graduate, given the backlog that currently exists in immigration court. Throughout the semester, we were repeatedly reminded that this is a realm of the law that is continuously challenged. At least once a week a new proclamation would come out from the Executive Branch that threatened the chances and well being of our clients. However, the lawyers at HIRC are up for the challenge and their relentless advocacy inspired and taught us the same. We learned how to be creative in our arguments in order to fight despite working in a field where the law is not in our favor.
I learned so much during my time at HIRC and was able to immediately apply that knowledge when I volunteered in Tijuana with Al Otro Lado during Christmas break. It felt rewarding to go back to my home—now at the heart of our current immigration debate—and advocate for the asylum seekers.
As I finally step into the world of an actual lawyer this summer, I will forever carry with me the lessons I learned at HIRC.
Asseret Frausto is a 3L from the Tijuana-San Diego border. She graduated from UCLA in 2015. Prior to law school, she worked at a tech company (Oracle) in Silicon Valley. She spent her 1L summer as a 1L Diversity Fellow at White & Case in Los Angeles and at Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. She spent her 2L summer at O’Melveny in Los Angeles and in D.C. At HLS, she is the Co-President of La Alianza, a student attorney with the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), a board member of HL Central, and a member of the Women’s Law Association (WLA). In her spare time she likes listening to podcasts, watching Friends reruns, and eating delicious Latin food.