In addition to generous funding from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the Open Society Institute, as part of its Safe Cities Baltimore Initiative, has selected the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Immigration Clinic to receive a grant to “provide representation in immigration bond hearings and develop a statewide immigrant legal defense fund.” These funds allow the clinic to tackle a unique aspect of Immigration Law.
Virtually everyone who has been exposed to American pop culture, and certainly every lawyer, knows these two sentences: “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” Despite their renown and near universal approval, only the first sentence applies to immigrants facing deportation proceedings.
Deportation proceedings are considered a civil matter. Unlike a criminal proceeding, an immigrant facing deportation must secure his or her own legal counsel at his or her own expense. As a result, most who face deportation proceedings do so alone and at their peril.
The Center for Popular Democracy released a report in March 2017 emphasizing the staggering effect legal representation has on deportation hearings in Baltimore. Even though only 19 percent of immigrants in civil immigration court had any legal representation at some point in their case, the report states, “People with lawyers were 4x [times] more likely to get a successful case outcome.”
Acknowledging this data and its dire implications, Maryland Carey Law’s Immigration Clinic reaffirms its commitment to seeking justice for this particularly vulnerable population.
Expanded Services and A New Ally
Associate Professor Maureen Sweeney has been at the forefront of the expanding immigration debate as the Director of the Immigration Clinic since its inception in 2004 and has been joined by 114 students during her tenure. Professor Sweeney reports seeing “a huge upswing in student interest in immigration as a result of the new administration’s focus on immigration reform. Students are seeing immigration as a new frontier of human rights.”
With the establishment of a statewide immigrant legal defense fund, another objective of the Immigration Clinic comes closer to fruition: universal representation of anyone facing deportation in Maryland. That principle is held especially dear by new Staff Attorney Gabriela Kahrl ’08.
Gabriela joins Maryland Carey Law after nearly six years with the Office of the Public Defender, where she became heavily involved in immigration cases as the only Spanish-speaking attorney on staff.
Since joining the clinic, she has embraced her work implementing the statewide immigration legal defense fund. “I believe very strongly that indigent immigrants should have an attorney representing them in immigration court,” she discloses, “otherwise the due process rights they are afforded have no meaning.”
Above all else, Gabriela is passionate about the role of lawyers in the legal process and hopes to instill that passion into her students. She explains, “A powerful mission we have as lawyers is the protection of important ideas and the protection of human dignity, and the insistence that that is never denied in any courtroom. That is, to me, in the broadest sense, the job of a lawyer: to insist on humanity in every proceeding and in every moment.”