At the helm of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Professor Ericka Curran and Legal Clinic Fellow Vanessa Bernadotte endeavor to provide resources rarely available to the indigent immigrant Jacksonville community.
With the assistance of student clinicians, the clinic offers legal services for cases that are frequently unrepresented including preparation of asylum petitions, family unity applications and petitions, applications for naturalization and applications for relief under the Violence Against Women Act and the Victim of Trafficking and Violent Crime Prevention Act.
“Through social work and working with immigrant farmers I saw people’s rights being violated – people who didn’t have a voice because they didn’t have the financial resources to get an attorney,” said Curran. “I also enjoy supervising and mentoring students, so coming to a clinic was sort of a dream job for me. It was really an opportunity to serve.”
With the supervision of Curran and Bernadotte, students in the Immigrant Rights Clinic are involved with both direct legal services to non-citizens as well as legal advocacy projects. Students gain experience in interviewing and counseling clients, conducting fact investigation, developing case theory, interviewing witnesses, writing declarations and submitting briefs. The students meet their clients and they get motivated in a way that maybe they didn’t in their classes because they are able to interact with a live client.
“You feel like you’re helping someone who, if this clinic wasn’t here, would not have received representation otherwise,” said Bernadotte. “Working for a law firm or with a traditional client – I don’t think I would feel as fulfilled as I am in the clinic because, particularly in this area and in immigration, some of our clients really don’t have another option.”
Both Curran and Bernadotte are thankful for the Legal Clinic Fellowship program where they have been able to develop a mentor relationship and team up to better provide for Coastal students and the community. They both greatly value the combination of teaching, practicing, and serving the community their positions allow them.
“We had a woman who was a law professor from another country and she was being prosecuted because she was a law professor. We also had a case for a judge who was facing persecution in his country,” said Curran. “I think those were particularly moving cases because they were individuals who do the things I do. You realize how lucky you are to be living where you’re living and working where you’re working.”