College of Law Reports Strong Bar Passage Results
Kevin Flynn, recent graduate, is hooded
by his father, ’87 UC Law graduate Kevin R. Flynn.
Law School Beats State Average and ranks second in Ohio as 88 % of First-Time Takers
Pass the July 2015 Ohio Bar Exam
Cincinnati, OH—Three years of coursework, thousands of study hours, and hundreds of hours of legal work experience all come together three days in July when law school graduates from across the state and beyond sit for the Ohio Bar Examination. Today, the results of the July 2015 Bar Exam were released and the University of Cincinnati College of Law, ranked an A level “Best Value Law School” by The National Jurist, recorded an 88 percent passage rate for first-time takers, second among Ohio law schools. This rate exceeds the state-wide average passing rate of 80 percent.
The overall passage rate for College of Law’s takers is 87 percent, second among Ohio law schools. It is almost 13 percent higher than the state-wide average rate of 74.5 percent.
Out-of-state results are just as strong. For those jurisdictions that have released their outcomes, Class of 2015 results represent a 87.5 percent pass rate, including a 100 percent pass rate in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin.
“We’re excited about the results of the July bar exam and very proud of our students. Their hard work has paid off,” said Jennifer S. Bard, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law. “They have represented our school, their families, themselves and the community with distinction. We look forward to celebrating with them during the swearing ceremony in Columbus and supporting them as they continue their careers.”
She continued, “Although in the end each student’s bar preparation is one of individual effort, much credit goes to the faculty and staff who have developed a curriculum that both prepares students to pass this specific test and excel as lawyers.”
Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission will be admitted on Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. during a special session of the Supreme Court at the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, OH. The session will be streamed live via the Supreme Court and Ohio Channel websites at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov and www.ohiochannel.org. It will also be available statewide on the Ohio Channel’s local public broadcasting stations.
Other Cincinnati Law News
From the Seminary to Law School, Zack Weber Shares How It All Connects
Cincinnati native and first-year law student Zack Weber spent his time following high school on a unique and diverse path exploring different areas of interest that fit his personal and professional motivations. From his early studies in the seminary to seven-years of professional experience, Weber has found that his desire to make a difference in the lives of others has been a strong motivating factor throughout his professional journey and has inspired him to pursue a career in the legal field.
“It’s been a bit of a round about path here,” he teased.
Weber expressed that his interest in the seminary started around his sophomore year in high school. After graduating from local Cincinnati school Elder, he did not pursue that line of study initially, but instead began his undergraduate study in Engineering at the University of Dayton.
“Engineering was actually an interest of mine in high school as well so I wanted to give that a shot, you know a fair shot first before deciding to start with seminary.”
But it wasn't long until Weber decided to start his seminary journey. After his first year at UD he decided to transfer to the Pontifical College of Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, where he received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy in addition to his early priesthood training. Following his studies at Josephinum, Weber continued on in the seminary and traveled over 4,000 miles to Rome, Italy for graduate studies in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“I was [at the Gregorian] a total of four academic years. Although in-between my third and fourth year of studies I actually did an internship back here in the States with a parish in Hamilton, Ohio where I was helping out with different parish functions. I couldn’t say mass or anything like that but I was helping out with the school, with their parish counsel, and with anything else I could without being a priest at that point,” Weber shared.
After returning from Italy, he ultimately decided to not be ordained a priest. Around that time, Weber recalled, a good friend who also left the seminary had gone directly into law school. And about five or six of his friends from seminary were likewise taking the law school path.
“I always thought that was kind of curious, ‘what’s the connection?’” Weber questioned, and through conversations with his friends, who are now practicing attorneys, noticed there were many parallels between the two professions that he could identify with.
“It kind of struck a chord with me. I think the idea of being in seminary and wanting to be a priest has a lot of commonality with wanting to be a lawyer. I think in both arenas you have a great ability to help people, albeit in different ways; and while many priests want to help people in a spiritual way, the ideas of truth and justice, I think, carry over into both places.”
This desire to pursue law school prompted Weber to take the LSAT in 2007, but he determined at that particular time law school wasn’t the best decision. So he started out his career in retail and customer service, sharpening his communication and interpersonal skills. After his return from Italy, Weber began working at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza as a front office assistant manager, before later moving into a position at Nordstrom. Most recently, he was the manager for the Art of Shaving, a retail store that sells a men’s luxury grooming line. Weber opened the store in 2012 and was the general manager for three years before he left this summer for law school.
He commented, “I think my desire professionally has always been to make a substantial difference in people’s lives. And I think that was my initial desire when I thought I wanted to be a priest. And I think it's still my deep desire now. Which, you know in retail you can make a difference but I don’t think it was the kind of difference I was looking for.”
Now as first year law student and Fellow with the Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice, Weber endeavors to explore different areas of law to be able to pursue that goal of making a substantial difference in people’s lives. With UC Law being at the top of his list, Weber noted that the Center was one of the major factors in making UC Law his final decision.
“Social justice has always been a major interest of mine, probably from the time I was in grade school. I remember wanting to get involved in community service type activities. I actually did a 10-week mission trip and volunteered at Catholic youth camps and stuff like that in college. So I’ve always been trying to commit myself, to give my energy, my abilities, and my skills to help people in whatever position they are in in life.”
Weber admits that his specific career goals are not fine-tuned at this moment, but he is looking forward to exploring different areas of law where he can tie-in his interest for social justice.
“I think that the idea of social justice can be found pretty much at any level. You know whether you’re in a business, whether you’re in small practice or public interest, you can really carry that out in any area… But I’m keeping my mind really open. I do want to spend some time both in the public and private sector before I make a decision. That’s a pretty broad generalization, but it’s a starting point.”
By: Sarah Nelson’17
UC Law’s LLM Program Gives Students Training, Experience and Inspiration
Like other legal professionals from around the world, three new UC College of Law students came to the United States for advanced training and, just as importantly, inspiration.
“Studying law in the U.S. is like magic. It’s so difficult,” states Frinwi Gwenelyne Achu, an LL.M. student from Cameroon.
In addition to Achu, this year’s LL.M. class features two other students from Africa: Arnold Agaba and Amanda Arigaba, both from Uganda. The LL.M. program provides students who have studied law in a foreign country the opportunity to receive up to two years of exposure to the U.S. legal system. Each student has, at minimum, a bachelor’s in law and earns a masters in law for foreign-trained lawyers. The program is currently in its fourth year, and has so far graduated 30 students from 18 different countries. This year’s class features 18 students from 10 countries.
Achu attended University of Buea Cameroon, the first Anglo-Saxon University in that nation. Agaba studied at Uganda Christian University, which he describes as young and vibrant. Arigaba attended two schools in Kampala, the capital of Uganda; she earned her undergraduate Bachelor of Laws degree at Makerere University and her diploma in Human Rights at the Law Development Centre.
While the students have adjusted their lives, time zones and learning methods, all three say their experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive. However, each student was motivated to study law in America for different reasons, and each has different end goals upon returning to their home countries.
Arigaba has wanted to be a lawyer since she can remember. With parents who were lawyers, she was “always in awe of my father’s choice of syntax and vast knowledge of everything...something I attributed to his profession,” she said.
She would watch or read the news, hoping to understand conversations he had with other adults. Her mother she viewed as a superwoman who juggled being a mother and a lawyer “flawlessly.”
Achu and Agaba both looked to law because of its integral role in society and job opportunities available after legal training. Agaba was driven by his desire to influence rule-change and thinking in his community in Uganda; Achu wants to combat disparities.
To fulfill their career wishes, though, they knew they needed to look to the West, specifically, to America.
Universities across the globe look to the U.S. as the ideal for building legal expertise. Studying in any foreign country gives students chances to understand their subjects on larger scales, something particularly valuable to employers. Studying in the country that sets standards, however, is even more enticing.
“Why did I choose the greatest country in the world?” Agaba asked. After a pause, he explained that America is viewed as the leader, a place where “development is real and the lives of the people in that country are bettered by its government on a daily basis.”
Arigaba agreed, saying that she chose to study here because of the America’s “admirable“ legal evolution.
Teaching methods have been one of the toughest things to adjust to, the students said. Precedent cases differ from country to country, meaning that even if concepts are the same, applicability is not. Students in America are highly encouraged to have a robust understanding of cases, to push boundaries and to engage in conversations and establish relationships with professors and other faculty members, which is not the case in every country.
“You may go through law school without ever having a personal relationship with an instructor,” said Agaba of legal education in Uganda, “which, I think, is terrible because you can’t better someone’s life at a distance. It has to be personal.”
Networking with faculty, area professionals and other students has been a priority for the LL.M. students. Arigaba has enjoyed conferences featuring renowned or acclaimed individuals who share their knowledge with students. “They put into context a lot of what is delivered in the classroom walls and are very inspiring considering their accolades, a reminder of how much work there is to be done and how much I can achieve.”
Achu experienced the same kind of awe when visiting a local law firm that employs 200 lawyers. The largest firm in Cameroon has 10.
Networking helps keep career goals at the front of the students’ minds, and upon completion of the LL.M. program, each has distinct plans.
Achu wants to work toward creating her own company encouraging foreign investments in Cameroon, where eight of 10 regions speak French, while the other two speak English. Because business laws conflict between the two types, many companies do not expand, which leads to disparities between communities.
Foreign investments, Achu said, will impact citizens’ lives by expanding opportunities in the country rich in natural resources. “I know if I create good contacts and connections with people, we’ll be able to get a forum where we work out a partnership,” she said. “We [Cameroon] have the materials, we send it to you, and it’s going to help you.”
Agaba would rather teach than practice law. “Teaching offers me the opportunity to change mindsets, to show people different experiences, rather than simply solving one problem of theirs. I could change the mindset of various people, and lawyers are a big part of social change. So, if you influence a lawyer, you can influence a greater part of the society.”
Arigaba is particularly interested in human rights and foreign affairs. She describes herself as appreciating hard work and service, and wants to see and impact change among the entire nation. “I have the mind and attitude of service, and I will go wherever I am needed,” she said. Studying in a foreign nation with other international students has also provided opportunities to understand other cultures and ways of doing things. Students leave with new skills and knowledge that they can integrate in their home country.
“You don’t just walk away with a masters degree,” Agaba said. “You walk away with a new lifestyle, a new mindset, with actual change. The person who came here in August is not the same person who is leaving. He is better in various ways. But in meaningful ways.”
First-Year Students Win the College of Law ABA Negotiation Competition
First-year students win the College of Law ABA Negotiation Competition. The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Club, which promotes negotiation and dispute resolution activities, hosted a competition to determine which students will represent the University of Cincinnati at the American Bar Association Negotiation Competition. Two teams – David Lopez and Ben White as well as Meg Franklin and Melissa Springer – will represent the College at the ABA Regional Competition in November which will be held at Nothwestern Law School. Twelve teams participated and were judged by local attorneys. Students are coached by Professor Marjorie Aaron and James K. Lawrence, Esq., an Adjunct Faculty member.
LLM Focus: Adele Sentuc
In 2014, French native Adéle Sentuc obtained her Spanish and French Law degrees from the Complutense Law School and Panthéon Sorbonne Law School, respectively. Shortly after completion of her dual-law degree, Sentuc decided to continue her education at the Sorbonne, in pursuit of a Masters degree focusing on food and agriculture. Now, to advance her education one step further, Sentuc has joined UC Law’s new LLM class and is excited to diversify her skill set to advance her career opportunities in the area of food and agriculture law.
As an LLM student, Sentuc hopes to develop and perfect her English speaking and writing skills, gain a deeper understanding of American law, and network with people in the food and agriculture industry. Sentuc has found the LLM program, and the UC Law community to be very receptive to her goals.
“That’s something we don’t have in France. Professors here, from what I’ve seen, they’re interested in students. They know your names, they know what you’re interested in, and if they can help you with something they will help you."
This semester Sentuc is scheduled to take courses in Environmental Law, Intellectual Property, Legal Writing, and US Legal Studies, and is looking forward to completing a research assignment for Food and Agricultural Law.
Early interest in the study of Food and Agriculture stems from accompanying her mother on various Humanitarian trips to Africa, doing related humanitarian work that led Sentuc to really assess issues surrounding the availability and the quality of food in different parts of the world.
“At the beginning [my interest in food and agriculture] was about the availability of food. But when I entered the Masters program I discovered it was not just that problem, but also the quality of food, and I saw that there were so many more things that I wanted to be involved with.”
Before coming to UC, as part of her Master’s degree, Sentuc interned with the Spanish Embassy in its Food and Agriculture Department. After completing her LLM degree, Sentuc hopes to return to the Food and Agriculture industry and work on related issues at an international level.
“I think food issues right now are international and that something needs to be done to eradicate hunger. But if you want to work for a big law firm or a big company in Europe you have to be able to speak and write in English. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be able to write in English and have legal-English skills. That’s why I wanted to come here.”
Sentuc explained that English language skills are a requirement for many positions in Europe, and believes the LLM program “will be a plus in [her] resume because everyone says [in Europe] they ‘speak’ English” so having studied in America will help her stand out from other applicants.
“I’m sure I’ll grow up a lot from this,” Sentuc commented, noting that it was difficult at first to make the decision to come to America. “There were months where I was crying every day thinking, ‘what am I doing? Should I leave my house and my family? Am I going to be missing opportunities?’ But then I really thought about it and said, ‘this could be really positive for me.’ Not only professionally, but also personally."
Sentuc plans to utilize the resources and opportunities through the LLM program to better focus her interest in Food and Agriculture and specify which areas in that field she would like to take her career. Hopefully “with the LLM program I will get to know people [in the food and agriculture field] to tell me about their experiences and be able to find that specific path.”
Sarah Ambach '17 Pursues Entrepreneurship Law
Sarah Ambach ’17 had the unique opportunity to watch first-hand what it entails to start a small business--the courage it takes and struggles that come with it. As a high school student, Ambach worked along side her parents as they took the challenge of starting a small business with Penssara Computer Technologies, a technology integration company that primarily services medical and dental offices. It was this experience that fueled Ambach’s desire to pursue opportunities in entrepreneurship law.
Ambach returned to Cincinnati after obtaining her Marketing degree from the Holy Family University in Pennsylvania. When deciding to go to law school, Ambach recalls being sold on UC Law after speaking with Professor Goldfarb about the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC), and the entrepreneurial opportunities available in Cincinnati. In light of her parents’ entrepreneurial endeavors, Ambach was excited to be able to work with start-ups and entrepreneurs and be a resource for them in the community.
Through ECDC, third-year law students have the opportunity to represent local small businesses and entrepreneurs in various areas of law and help them start or advance their businesses and ideas. Although Ambach could not directly participate with the clinic during her first-year, Ambach found ways to connect with other students also interested in entrepreneurship law and found different ways to engage with the entrepreneurial community. These engagements later inspired Ambach to start UC Law’s Entrepreneurship Law Club.
“A few of us who weren’t in the Clinic were already going to different networking events together. Starting the club was a way to formalize what [those who weren’t in the clinic] were already doing, but in a more accessible way that can generate more student involvement and eventually more involvement in the Clinic.”
As President and Founder of the Entrepreneurship Law Club, Ambach is eager to bring in local attorneys for different speaking engagements and host panel events at the law school, and to connect with the undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club to share events and facilitate different networking opportunities. Inspired by entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm, Ambach hopes the Entrepreneurship Law Club will lead to increased participation in ECDC to provide more legal assistance to the entrepreneur and start-up business community in Cincinnati.
“[Entrepreneurs are] so passionate. And when you speak to entrepreneurs they talk about their ideas like it’s their baby,” Ambach joked, “But they’re excited! They want to move forward with their idea, and they go into work every day pumped up about what’s coming up next.”
Ambach experienced this enthusiasm first-hand during her first year when she was invited to attend and shadow the Clinic’s Pro Bono Day, an annual event ECDC co-sponsors with the Duke Law Energy Department. During the event, Duke attorneys and ECDC students provide free 30-minute consultations in various areas of legal practice to the local start-up and entrepreneurial community.
“I obviously couldn’t give legal advice but I was able to shadow attorneys and watch them practice and handle a situation on the spot. It provides really practical experience for participating ECDC students.” Ambach was excited to see a UC DAAP student attend the Clinic’s Pro Bono day, seeking advice on how to trademark a logo.
Ambach is not sure whether she’ll take the same entrepreneurial path as her parents did, but is dedicated to being involved in this area of law during her future practice. “With my background in Marketing I really want to help build brands, and providing legal assistance to entrepreneurs and start-ups is something that I would love to make the focus of my pro bono work in the future.” This fall, Ambach continues to explore her interest in entrepreneurship law through an externship with Dinsmore and Shohl, helping entrepreneurs who were selected as the current class for Mortar, a local business accelerator.
College of Law Student Awarded Prestigious Peggy Browning Fellowship
This spring, College of Law rising 2L Andrea Brown became one of only 80 students to receive the prestigious and highly competitive Peggy Browning Fellowship. During the summer break she will be working with the IUE-CWA, an organization committed to supporting and empowering local labor unions. Mary Ann Moffa, executive director of the Peggy Browning Fund, described the award as a “tribute to [Ms. Brown’s] outstanding qualifications.”
This year, 400 people from over 150 law schools applied for the Peggy Browning fellowship. Named for union activist Margaret Browning, the fellowship supports outstanding students who commit their summers to fighting against social injustice in the workplace. The award is given to students who both excel in the classroom and show a commitment to workers' rights as, demonstrated in their previous work, volunteer, and personal experiences.
Recalling her time as an English major at the University of Chicago, Brown spoke of the way literature impacted her views on labor and employment. She suggests that her passion for social justice served as a lens through which she viewed her academic studies, and acknowledged the way in which her exposure to the depictions of inequality in literature inspired her to work as an advocate for social and economic equality.
“Whether it was women’s political and economic roles in Shakespeare’s Richard II or classism and poverty in The Grapes of Wrath,” she commented, “issues of equality were always at the forefront of my academic life.”
Her professional career, too, exemplifies her dedication to supporting workers and labor leaders. Before coming to law school, Brown served as a community organizer for Working America, AFL-CIO. During this time, she helped union members access the resources that they needed to achieve the goals of their community, while simultaneously encouraging nonunion members to join the organized labor movement.
“There is strength in numbers, and strength in brother and sisterhood,” she said. “While we can recognize economic inequality staring back at us in our schools, our neighborhoods, our low-wage job, it is not until we talk together about that inherent inequality that we become less alone.”
Even her personal life seems to be shaped by her desire to empower workers. When asked where she would take a visitor in her hometown of Hamilton, OH, Brown discussed how proud she would be to show off the resilience of Main Street.
“Hamilton was hit hard by the economic downturn and a lot of small businesses closed down,” she said. “Within the last few years, there are signs of life as new independent shops and restaurants have opened along Main Street.”
Brown anticipates learning a lot and enhancing her skills during her 10-week fellowship with the IUE-CWA. “I came to law school because I knew I wanted to do something that, as cliché as this sounds, would leave the world at least a little bit of a better place.”
Author: Catlin Wells ‘16
College of Law Students Receive Scholarship Awards from the Black Lawyers of Cincinnati
Remington A. Jackson ’15 and Georgeanna Bien-Aime’16 are both recipients of prestigious scholarships from the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati (BLAC). The BLAC is a professional organization committed to improving the administration of civil and criminal justice; working with national, state and local bar associations to solve problems particular to African American lawyers; and improving opportunities for all lawyers and law students to share equally in the benefits of the legal profession. The awards were announced at the organization’s annual scholarship and award banquet.
Jackson, who will graduate this month, is the recipient of The Theodore M. Berry Scholarship. This scholarship was created in recognition of the political, civic and legal achievements of former Cincinnati Mayor Theodore M. Berry, who was also a University of Cincinnati College of Law alumnus. A graduate of the College of Wooster, Jackson plans to pursue a career in labor and employment law or corporate law. While at the law school, he honed his leadership and professional skills while working at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the General Counsel’s Office for the university, and as a judicial extern to the Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins, United States Bankruptcy Court-Southern District of Ohio. In addition, this past year he was president of the Black Law Students Association and vice-chair of the Midwest Region of the National Black Law Students Association.
“I will be using the funds from this scholarship for bar support to avoid taking out any additional student loans,” Jackson said. “But more importantly, the meaning of this scholarship goes far beyond monetary value. Since coming to Cincinnati, I was made aware of Judge Berry's achievements, such as being the first Black mayor of Cincinnati. But my mentors challenged me to dig deeper past those accomplishments to his character. Being awarded the Theodore M. Berry Scholarship is an immense and humbling honor not only because of the prestige associated with such a legal giant so much but also the fact that it will continue to help me build my career here in Cincinnati.”
Bien-Aime, a second year law student, was awarded The William A. McClain Scholarship, which is given to an African American student who demonstrates leadership potential and dedication to the community. Judge McClain, a member of the Bar of Ohio for more than 70 years, was a former Cincinnati City Solicitor, the first African American attorney to serve in this position of any major city in the country.
A graduate of Northern Kentucky University, Bien-Aime plans to focus her career on corporate transactional work, labor and employment, and regulatory compliance. At the College of Law she is an Associate member of the Freedom Center Journal, the Black Law Students Association and served as the Legislative Advocacy Specialist for the National Black Law Students Association Midwest Region this year. In addition, she volunteers throughout the Cincinnati community with groups such as the Avondale Bond Hill Legal Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, and the Volunteer Income Tax Association. She has interned for the Honorable John Andrew West, Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and is currently a legal intern with Cincinnati Public Schools and an extern with The Kroger Co.
“After passing the bar, I plan to go directly to an in-house legal department or to start my career at a small firm and then move to an in-house position,” she said. “I really appreciate this award,” Bien-Aime continued. “It will open doors and give me greater opportunity to advance the work of the late Honorable William A. McClain.”
A Jail by Any Other Name...
The personal observation from one law student’s experience at the South Texas Family Residential Center, an ICE Detention Center
The South Texas Family Residential Center, described in one word, is a euphemism. Opened in December of 2014, this “family detention center” looms large in the tiny town of Dilley, Texas, just over 80 miles from the US-Mexico border. Immediately next door is a Texas state prison; from the road, the two are indistinguishable, surrounded by high walls and perimeter lights.
Currently, the “family detention center” houses around 400 women and their children. However, it will soon be expanded to house over 2,400 women, at which point it will be the largest ICE detention center in the country. Many of the women detained in Dilley endured harrowing experiences in their home countries that prompted them to flee to the US in search of a life free from persecution and torture. Despite their status as victims of threats and violence, leading to potentially valid claims for asylum, these women are detained in what is, in actuality, a jail, and are monitored at all times by guards. You see, the “family detention center” is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison company in the US.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the immigrant jail in Dilley is the facility’s choice and use of terms that make it less obvious that these women and their (often young) children are incarcerated. Trailers used for court, visitation, and dining all feature names reminiscent of cabins at a Girl Scout camp, such as “Purple Pigeon.” The correctional officers perform “counts,” just as would occur normally in a prison, though in the “family detention center,” the count is referred to as the “census.” CCA even took the time to plant palm trees around the outer security perimeter of the jail to make it look a little homier.
Meet the Women of Dilley
So who are the women I encountered in Dilley? The women were young – most I met with were less than 25 years old – and most had young children with them. All of the women were from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, and the vast majority of them do not speak any English. They have suffered extreme domestic violence, physical abuse at the hands of gang members, and threats that would make your blood curdle. These women showed me their knife wounds, revealed to me their children’s gunshot wounds, cried as they explained how gang members threatened to cut off their heads and kill their children, related to me stories of abuse so shocking that I have had countless nightmares ever since.
In the face of such persecution and torture, the courage and resilience that these women continue to show is nothing short of astounding. Yet, our country is treating them as if they are criminals who pose a danger to US society. Upon arrival at the border, many undocumented immigrants are taken to temporary detention facilities colloquially known as “hieleras” (iceboxes) for at least a day. When we asked the women to briefly tell us about their experience crossing the border, many voluntarily offered information about the hieleras, and the trauma and dehumanizing conditions they faced there. In addition to the obviously frigid temperatures (which caused many people’s appendages to turn blue), such accounts included descriptions of: overwhelmingly crowded cells with no space to sleep or even sit; damp concrete floors with no chairs, pillows, or blankets; utter lack of privacy; and denial of food and basic hygienic supplies. From the hieleras, immigrants are loaded into the border patrol vans – known colloquially as “perreras” (“dog kennels”) – to be taken to ICE facilities like the one in Dilley.
How the Journey Begins
The hieleras are merely the tip of the iceberg that is a broken immigration system – a system that is failing the women incarcerated in Dilley and countless others like them. For many immigrants, the dangerous journey begins with coyotes, who charge around $5,000 to $7,000 to deliver their passengers to the border – if the passengers are going to be caught by border patrol agents. Immigrants who wish to be taken to the border safely and cross without being caught by border patrol agents must pay around $14,000. So, unsurprisingly, most people pay what they can afford and are caught. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requires that ICE officers question recently arriving immigrants, within a short time of coming into contact with them, regarding whether they are fearful of returning to their country of origin. If an arriving individual expresses fear of returning to his or her country of origin, the law requires that they be granted an interview with an asylum officer.
The law, and asylum seekers’ rights under it, is often not respected in practice. In Dilley, I discovered that the information on many women’s Notice to Appear forms – issued by ICE – was false. In many instances, women were either not questioned at all pertaining to whether they were fearful of returning; or if questioned, the questions were insufficient to elicit information relevant to an asylum claim (such as why a particular person is fearful). The varying diligence and truthfulness of ICE agents creates a system that is arbitrary in nature. To give one example, I will share a brief part of Alicia’s* story.
Alicia crossed the border within a few hours of her sister; she and her sister are the same age, each was accompanied by her only child, and each fled their home county for the same reason. Alicia and her sister encountered different ICE agents. The agent who interviewed the sister was able to determine that she was fearful of returning to her home country and should be allowed to apply for asylum; as a result, that agent allowed Alicia’s sister to leave ICE custody on parole and join her family. Alicia’s experience has been the opposite of her sister’s: the ICE agent she encountered did not question her about any fear of returning she may have and sent her to the jail in Dilley to be detained with her child. Once in the Dilley jail, Alicia met with an asylum officer, who determined that she most likely has a “credible fear” of persecution if deported, and her detention officer set a bond of $10,000 for her that was required to be paid in full before she was allowed to leave the jail and join her family.
Not only is it shocking that two individuals in the exact same situation were dealt with in a completely different manner, but it is also shocking that our government is setting such exorbitant bonds for women like Alicia. $10,000 is the average bond for the women of Dilley and can only be lowered to $7,500 in very select circumstances when the asylum seeker has the requisite number and type of supporting documents (such as identification cards and “letters of support” from friends/family in the US). This document requirement is occasionally made more difficult by the fact that possessions are easily lost during the dangerous one-month trip through Mexico to reach the US, and by the fact that family members are often separated at the border. While one woman I met – Lupe – was lucky because she had brought and retained a large number of supporting documents, she was beside herself because she had crossed the border with her cousin, who was taken to an ICE jail for men. The ICE officers had not allowed her cousin to bring anything with him, so she held on to all of his documents. She does not know where he was taken and has no way to get that information. ICE has an online locator for people in detention, but repeated searches – with his name spelled many different ways – uncovered no information about him. Thus, he is either in detention, held under an extremely high bond because he has no documents and no way to be reached by Lupe, or he has been deported to his home country, where his life is in imminent danger. Moreover, even if I had been able to find his location online, Lupe would not have been able to call and speak with her cousin, as individuals who are detained by ICE are not allowed to receive phone calls.
Barriers and the Court
The communication barriers and the isolation of asylum seekers who are detained continue throughout the asylum process. The situation becomes increasingly dire when the asylum seeker does not speak a common language, such as English or Spanish. In the Dilley jail, many of the women have escaped persecution in Guatemala; as a result, quite a few of them speak Quiche and do not understand enough Spanish to have a conversation or to be engaged in judicial proceedings in Spanish. For one particular young woman – Magdalena – this linguistic restriction has resulted in asylum hearings that are consistently continued whenever the Quiche interpreter is unavailable, which is an unpredictable and all-too-common occurrence.
The prevailing arbitrariness in how asylum seekers are treated is accompanied by other difficulties they encounter upon arriving in the US. Countless asylum seekers, especially the women I met in Dilley, are treated with disdain and outright hostility. One detention officer expressly told Graciela – a woman who had knife wounds and recounted chilling accounts of abuse – that she was fabricating her entire story, and that she would be deported because the asylum officer would not believe her “lies”. Such callousness was not only exuded by certain detention officers, but also by some immigration judges. For instance, Liliana, a mother of two children had enough money to bring one child to the US with her. So, she brought her son—mainly because a gang was actively trying to recruit him and his life was in danger. During a hearing, a judge berated Liliana for only bringing one of her children to the US and strongly implied that she must be a terrible mother for leaving her other child behind if the situation was “so dangerous.”
In light of emotional mistreatment and the lack of legal or community support for these women, it is obvious that they are in serious need of people willing to advocate for them. That is where I, and the CARA Pro Bono Project**, come in. The team leader of our volunteer group in Dilley aptly described our experience there as “guerrilla lawyering”: many moments, I felt like our group was fighting a battle simply to be allowed to help the women there. Our workweek consisted of assisting women at the jail from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day, with several more hours of work every evening. Yet, the long hours were arguably the easiest part of the week. We had to work in a “court” where the guards yelled at us any time we attempted to speak to our clients. We could not take phones into the facility and, thus, had to make many calls to women’s family members in the evenings. We did not have access to a printer or copier, which was crucial for purposes of completing paperwork, so we eventually bought one and hauled it into the facility daily. The week after we left, not surprisingly, the supervisors banned the Pro Bono Project from bringing the printer into the facility at all.
Obstacles that arose were exacerbated by the fact that the Dilley immigrant jail is a place where the rules always change. One day, the lawyers are allowed to enter without being required to show a Bar card; the next, it is required. One day, we can bring Internet hotspots into the facility; the next, this is an issue. One day, we are allowed to begin setting up makeshift offices in the visitation trailer beginning at 7:00 a.m.; the next, not until 8:00 a.m. One day, we are allowed to pass through security if we take off our belts and shoes; the next, we are informed that women will no longer be able to enter with underwire bras! One day, the women can turn in a particular request form to obtain documents; the next, the detention offices require their own, new form and do not allow the lawyers to have a copy of the new form to provide to our clients. Every single day, some additional hurdle was placed in front of us that made it more difficult to effectively communicate with, and represent, the women.
What made this struggle worthwhile? The women I have described above, and all of the other women in the exact same situation as them. Words cannot describe the happiness I felt when a woman I had helped was released on bond so that she could pursue her asylum claim as a free woman. Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I was able to look Graciela in the face and tell her that I believed her story, that I understood her pain, and that the asylum officer would believe her, too. Moments like these made the week that I spent in Dilley worth everything that I invested in it. But the fight is far from over. These courageous women are victims – not criminals – and our government’s reliance on family detention of immigrants needs to end right now. Family detention, especially detention of asylum seekers, is a travesty of justice and a dark stain on our nation’s already broken immigration system.
* All names provided herein are pseudonyms for confidentiality purposes.
** The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and its mandate are described here: http://www.aila.org/practice/pro-bono/find-your-opportunity/cara-family-detention-pro-bono-project.
Erin Welch is a 3L from Florida, drawn to the College of Law because of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. Duing the 2014/15 school year, she served as editor of the Human Rights Quarterly. After law school Erin plans to focus her career in the area of human rights
Stephen Rost Hones Professional Skills with Corporate Externship
Originally from Madeira, Ohio, Stephen Rost ’15 has enjoyed studying law close to home. After graduating high school, however, he left the familiar surroundings of Cincinnati to attend St. Louis University, where he studied political science and theology. He went on to earn his master’s degree in political science and then returned to his hometown, working as an aide to Cincinnati Councilwoman Amy Murray.
“When I decided that it was time to return to the classroom to pursue a law degree, Cincinnati was an easy choice,” explained Rost, noting that proximity to friends and family was a factor he considered. At UC Law, his favorite class has been Corporate Transactions, and he is the editor-of-chief of the Freedom Center Journal. Now Rost is beginning his final semester at the law school, and he is looking forward to the next steps of his career.
Gaining Corporate Experience
Through the externship program at UC Law, Stephen worked for a semester with d.e. Foxx & Associates, Inc. A parent company encompassing three brands (Foxx Construction & Facility Management, XLC Sercies, and Versatex), d.e. Foxx & Associates has been based out of Cincinnati for over 30 years. A tour of the city will lead one past several of the projects Foxx Construction has worked on, including Great American Ball Park, the Horseshoe Casino, and UC’s own Shoemaker Center. Further, XLC Services provides manufacturing services and warehouse management, and Versatex provides procurement and supplier management solutions. This breadth of areas was part of the draw for him as he considered where he wanted to extern. “I noticed the structure of the company,” he said, “and I saw the opportunity to work in multiple areas through one externship.”
With d.e. Foxx & Associates, Rost gained a variety of experiences. He drafted several contracts, worked on compliance matters concerning job application disclosures, and attended various meetings and events including bidding meetings and mediations. Among the many things that he learned during his externship, one thing that struck him as significant is the importance of legal research skills outside the classroom. “In drafting construction contracts and working on compliance in employment matters, I really utilized the research skills I have learned as a student,” he shared. “As the company does work in numerous states, I looked into state minimum wages and contract law. Such broad research projects can be quite the undertaking, and having a solid foundation of legal research skills is a very valuable tool to have.”
In reflection on his experience, Rost noted that a diversity of experiences and a focus on practical classes is key in succeeding in a corporate setting. “As in-house counsel, you may be asked to do any number of projects encompassing a variety of legal concerns. Having a broad base of knowledge and experience can prove useful.” As his final semester begins, he will continue to broaden and hone his skill set to prepare for the bar exam and beyond.