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U of M’s newly funded legal clinics bring immigration law to life

The James H. Binger Center for New Americans offers traditional classroom instruction while also giving students the chance to participate in actual cases.

Deepinder Mayell (left), director of the Education and Outreach Program at the James H. Binger Center for New Americans, is pictured with third-year law school students Charles Moore, middle, and Nadia Anguiano-Wehde.
MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot

Nadia Anguiano-Wehde was working as a mechanical engineer for IBM when she made a mid-career move, enrolling at the University of Minnesota Law School. She quickly found her niche in the school’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans, a fledgling branch of the law school that received a $25 million grant earlier this year.

The center, billed as the only one of its kind in the country, consists of what law schools call clinics – courses that deliver traditional classroom instruction while also giving students the chance to participate in actual cases.

Anguiano-Wehde was inspired, in part, by her experience working with immigrants on a volunteer basis. “I wanted to deepen my connection with the immigrant community and also align my personal values with my job,” she said.

Law school’s largest grant

The grant, announced in February, came from the Robina Foundation, a Twin Cities philanthropic organization; it was the largest financial contribution ever received by the law school and will be used to cover faculty salaries and administrative costs and to fund community outreach programs and other initiatives, according to the center.

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The center runs three clinics: the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, which gives students a chance to argue cases before courts; the Detainee Rights Clinic, which provides pro bono counsel for immigrants being held by the federal government; and the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, which focuses on refugees seeking asylum.

Through the clinics, Anguiano-Wehde was able to represent a child, who was seeking asylum, in federal immigration court in Bloomington.

“As a law student, having the opportunity to speak before a judge in court gives you a sense of how important oral advocacy is,” she said in an email. “It’s one thing to know the law, but quite another to be able to orally articulate in persuasive ways why you think the court should reach a specific result.”

Besides offering the clinics, the center also sponsors workshops on emerging trends in immigration law, such as one held March 31 titled “Developments in Immigration Law: Executive Orders, Trafficking, and Federal Litigation.”

Minnesota focus

Most of the center’s work focuses on cases in Minnesota, whose immigrant and refugee groups range from Somalis clustered in the urban core of Minneapolis to Hispanics scattered across several small towns.

Recently, after the Trump administration issued a temporary ban on travelers from several countries with large Muslim populations, the center sent students and volunteer lawyers to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to help arriving travelers navigate the new policy. Moreover, in response to the administration’s pledge to step up deportations, the center sent students and lawyers to St. James, in far southwestern Minnesota, to screen the immigration status of Hispanics living in that area.

“There are pockets of need out there that we have been able to identify and focus on,” said Deepinder Mayell, the director of the center’s Education and Outreach Program.

Tucked into a corner of the law school’s Walter F. Mondale Hall on the university’s West Bank, the center has nine employees, plus adjunct instructors. About 40 students are currently taking part in the clinics.

On a quiet morning during spring break, Anguiano-Wehde studied around a table with Charles Moore, a fellow third-year student who had a personal stake in learning more about immigration law: His mother was a refugee from Cuba. They talked with Mayell about the future of the center.

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“People interested in immigration law and working with one of the most significant human rights issues today are going to want to be a part of this center,” Mayell said.