Eric Suarez was inspired to attend law school in second grade.
After immigrating with his parents from Cuba, the seven year-old Eric found himself in a Miami elementary school, alone, and facing many obstacles until one day another student came up to him and said, “I will take care of you, don’t worry.”
“From that moment on, I felt like I owed something to the society that allowed this person to step forward and help me when I needed it,” Suarez said in a recent interview.
Suarez has tried to give back. As president of the Latino/a Law Student Association (LLSA), he and other law students have worked with unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. LLSA as well as the Immigration Law & Policy Association, another student organization at the law school, have helped Professor Maureen Sweeney, director of Maryland Carey Law’s Immigration Clinic, guide the children and their guardians through the long and twisting U.S. Immigration system.
“Eric and the other students jumped at the chance to help reassure the families and guide them toward legal assistance, said Professor Sweeney. “As they’ve told me, they really believe that, ‘These are our kids’.”
The students provide information to children and their families about pro bono and low bono resources they can use to address immigration and guardianship issues, observe immigration hearings, and help the children manage hearing schedules.
“Providing reliable information to these folks is important,” said Suarez. “It is really easy for people to take advantage of them in their current circumstances.”
After just eight weeks, their work is having an effect. The children and their guardians are more composed while in front of the judge, which enables them to be more effective advocates for themselves. And the courts seem to be adjusting to the new demands on the immigration system.
“When we first started, the court heard 30 to 35 cases per day; it was hard to provide effective advice under those circumstances,” Suarez observed. Now, the courts may hear 10 to 20 cases a day – still a large number, but a more reasonable schedule.
Suarez is attending Maryland Carey Law because of its nationally ranked Law & Health Care Program. “I am really interested in how immigration law influences patient care,” he observed. “Minorities face a different reality when it comes to health care, both in preventative medicine and health education. I’d like to do something to change that.”
Most of the immigration cases with unaccompanied minors have been continued, giving the parties a chance to find legal counsel, as well as to address other legal needs. “But we’ll still be at it in February and March, when these folks are back in the court room,” Suarez stated. “And we’ll find the balance between law classes and our advocacy work. It’s the least we can do.”