By Rahwa Hailemariam
Western students will soon have the opportunity to become immigration lawyer assistants in Bellingham.
Western’s Fairhaven College and Whatcom Community College faculty are coordinating classes to train students from both colleges for immigration law work.
Fairhaven College’s Center for Law, Diversity and Justice, and the Paralegal Studies Program at Whatcom Community College are partnering to create the Immigration Law Clinic by fall of 2018.
“By training [students], we want to bring enough people to staff a clinic that would be supervised by an immigration attorney,” Ceci Lopez, assistant professor and director of Fairhaven’s Center for Law, Diversity and Justice said.
The clinic would allow students to serve as immigration paralegals. A paralegal is someone who performs substantive and procedural legal work authorized by law, according to the American Association for Paralegal Education.
“What the status of immigration is right now and how that impacts real people is important to address.”
Cloie Chapman, administrative assistant and events coordinator at Fairhaven College
As paralegals, students would have the knowledge and skills to handle certain level of legal matters. With their certificate or a degree in paralegal studies, students would prepare clients for the court, draft legal documents and assist immigration lawyers.
This fall, the two colleges will begin a pilot project in which Fairhaven students will attend the Immigration Paralegal class at Whatcom in the fall, and Whatcom students will attend Fairhaven’s Immigration Law class during winter quarter.
“The real inspiration for this comes from a local need for an immigration law clinic because there is a very high need for it among low-income people,” Lopez said.
The clinic would still need a sponsoring organization, which would serve as the legal umbrella for the program.
“My goal would be to get something running for next year,” Lopez said. “It would be wonderful if we can get the clinic up and running by fall of 2018.”
Cloie Chapman, administrative assistant and events coordinator for Fairhaven College, said Fairhaven faculty started discussing forming the clinic around three months ago.
She said they talked about it after Hiroshi Motomura, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and an immigration and citizenship scholar, came to speak at the World Issues Forum. There was interest in doing another event with Motomura after that.
“We were thinking about how to turn the second event into something meaningful and so [the project] fell together pretty quickly,” Chapman said.
The project will be formally announced on Wednesday, May 3, 5:30 p.m., at the Immigrant Rights Celebration event at Whatcom Syre Student Center.
Fairhaven faculty reached out to Whatcom because they had a paralegal studies program, and Fairhaven specializes in collaborating with other departments and the community, Chapman said.
The Washington State Supreme Court recently authorized Whatcom to offer core curriculum courses that prepares students to become limited-license legal technicians. This qualifies students to assist people in Washington with limited family law.
Washington is the first state in the country to offer affordable legal support for those unable to afford an attorney, according to Washington State Bar Association.
Students serve the community by participating in Street Law at Whatcom to better their skills. According to the program information, Street Law is a service that provides legal advice and counsel to students at Whatcom.
Community members already do a lot of work with immigration policy, and this is a way to organize and dedicate time and energy to it, Chapman said.
“What the status of immigration is right now and how that impacts real people is important to address,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the colleges are making connections with the community because it is meaningful for them. “There is the activist side of it and there is the academic side of it.”
The hope for the event is to bring members of the community who are passionate about immigrant rights to have a conversation about the status of immigration law on a bigger level, Chapman said.