November 2013 Archives

Skills, Experience, and Other Reflections on Student Involvement in the Clinics, by Kimberly Rhoten ('13)

Real world experience: a phrase we all too often use but rarely invest in. As young lawyers, fresh out of law school, many of us know the “law” solely through our theoretical pedagogical class discussions regarding person-less plaintiffs and imaginary defendants. Thanks to The University of Chicago Law School’s clinical opportunities, students can receive training in both law in theory, and more importantly, law in the real world. As a law student, I participated in several of the school’s legal clinics (Mental Health Advocacy, Domestic Violence Project and the International Human Rights Clinic). My experiences in clinical legal aid and education not only gave me the tools to become a good legal academic (legal research and writing) but also the experiences needed to become a good advocate (interpersonal skills, client exposure and court-room experience).

As a participant of the International Human Rights Clinic, I learned to navigate two very separate legal realities: (1) arguing before an immigration courtroom and (2) interviewing sex workers in an Indian brothel.  As a clinic participant, I assisted in the representation of a pro-bono immigration client in his request for Convention Against Torture relief from the United States Government. After helping to draft a legal brief for our client, myself and another law student represented him in Immigration Court. I sat before a judge and interviewed my chief witness (my client). I learned valuable lessons concerning the practices of the U.S. Immigration court system and developed several lawyering skills including: how to craft effective argument styles, how to prepare for a court hearing, and most importantly, how to think on my feet in response to the judge and opposing counsel. In my second project for the Clinic, I gathered interview data on the tangible inter-relationship between human trafficking, migration and sex work within Sonagachi, Kolkata. As a clinic student, I traveled to Kolkata, India to interview sex workers, politicians and other key stakeholders regarding the legal and social issues facing sex workers and human trafficking victims in India. From this experience, I learned how to format interview questions. Most importantly, however, I walked away from my time in Sonagachi with real world experiences. No longer were the sex workers I had read statistics about merely a number; they were people.

These skills I have taken with me both metaphorically and literally, to India. Today, I am a Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology at Jindal Global Law School in Sonipat, India. As a Research Fellow, I work on cutting edge issues in the areas of gender, sexuality, health and the law. Currently, I co-teach the Centre’s first-ever clinical course on the Rights of Transgender Persons. My teaching has been greatly impacted by the experiences and skills I developed with The University of Chicago Law School’s clinics. In addition, my upcoming interview-based research in Nepal on the legal rights of gender non-conforming persons will undoubtedly be informed by the interview training and guidance I received from the International Human Rights Clinic. The work I do has been greatly enhanced by the real world experiences I received from my clinical education at The University of Chicago Law School.

Personal Security for Citizens and Non-Citizens in Post-9/11 US Immigration Policy, by Paige Scheckla (1L)

A state’s immigration policy should be concerned with the right to security of person of its citizens, its legal residents, and the immigrants coming to its country. The right to personal security is protected under international law in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Personal security used here is commonly defined as freedom from the fear of violence. While US immigration policy since 9/11 is strongly concerned with the personal security of its own citizens, it tends to neglect the personal security of those wishing to immigrate to the country. In this blog post, I assume that the US, by virtue of its economic hegemony within the international system, has some kind of moral duty to the world’s poor and hungry who have attempted or are attempting to come to the country.

The personal security of citizens has increased dramatically since September 11, 2001. The recent increase in deportations indicates US concern for citizen security. Secure Communities, a deportation program initiated by the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) under President Bush and was expanded under President Obama, focuses on deporting criminal immigrants. Many criminals decrease the personal security of citizens within a state by making them vulnerable to violent crimes such as rape and assault. By removing criminals who pose threats to citizens’ well-being, the US has shown an increase in concern for citizens’ security. Additionally, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 requires screenings of criminal records for visa distribution. This prevents many immigrants who may have criminal pasts from entering the US where they may harm citizens of the country. Lastly, the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the building of a comprehensive barrier on the border between Mexico and the US, was lobbied for by citizens who sought protection from violent criminal activity and other security threats associated with an unprotected border.

Immigrant personal security, on the other hand, seems to have been completely neglected by policymakers since 9/11. The Secure Fence Act has made it more physically dangerous to cross the border from Mexico to the US without decreasing the number of crossings that are attempted. The rate of deaths for migrants crossing the border has actually doubled since 2006 (see The Fence (2010), directed by Rory Kennedy, produced by Moxie Firecracker Films). The increase in deportations under Secure Communities has decreased the security of children of deported immigrants, since many are left without one or more parents or guardians. Additionally, most individuals deported under Secure Communities have only committed minor offenses that did not result in physical harm to another person. In fact, according to ICE data from the 2011 fiscal year, only 25% of removals through Secure Communities (20,179 of 78,246) were of immigrants convicted of level one crimes (which include aggravated assault, robbery, sex offenses, hit and runs, and similar offenses). All other deported persons were either petty criminals, or not criminals at all. Many prospective immigrants are denied entrance to the US for minor offenses that may only be the result of the poverty and insecurity they face in their home countries. People with limited economic opportunities often turn to crime for sustenance and get caught in a phenomenon known as the crime and poverty trap. Criminal record screenings for immigrants may prevent some crime from occurring within the US, but they also prevent many people from seeking greater economic opportunities and security protections for themselves and their families provided by life within the US.

 There are several negative implications of placing citizens’ security above the security of immigrants. By focusing solely on citizens, the US government has contributed to the creation of a group of second-class human beings who are denied basic personal security, taken for granted by many Americans in their everyday lives. The policy also signals to other countries and international institutions that the US is concerned solely with the personal security of its own citizens and legal residents already living in the country to the considerable detriment of those wishing to enter the country. This lack of concern for non-US citizens’ personal security negatively impacts their right to security of person protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It seems that future immigration policy in the US may only exacerbate the disparity in personal security between citizens and immigrants. The comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013 (S. 744), would make enormous investments in securing the US-Mexico border, increasing the personal security of citizens and legal residents while making it more physically costly for those wishing to cross the border from Mexico. The bill would also eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery, which currently awards several thousands of visas each year to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of US immigration. Many of the countries that qualify as “diversity” states, such as Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar, and Iraq, have weak protections for the personal security of their citizens. By eliminating a key way for people from these countries to immigrate to the US, the Senate bill essentially decreases the personal security of many people around the world. While it is physically impossible and economically undesirable for the US to allow every person in the world to immigrate to the country, it should nonetheless reconsider its current immigration policy in order to ensure it protects the security of both citizens and immigrants.

Why International Human Rights Matter in the United States, by Jullia Park (3L)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These famous words of Martin Luther King were repeated in the University of Chicago Law School classroom on October 30. On this day, Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, spoke to students, academics, and experts on the importance of international human rights in the United States.

Jamil gave a number of reasons for why the US should promote international human rights domestically. He explained that US law is often inadequate in protecting people’s rights. For instance, to prevail on a discrimination case under US law, one must prove actual intent to discriminate. Under international human rights law, on the other hand, a showing of a disparate impact on a legal class (e.g. females, the disabled) is all that is necessary to make a discrimination claim, regardless of intent. A violation of human rights is often easier to establish under international human rights law than under US law. Evidently, international treaties are more holistic and more embracing of the “no person left behind” concept.

Jamil went onto explain that despite these justifications, international human rights is perceived as a foreign concept in the United States. I found this to be the most striking part about Jamil’s talk, as I had once been guilty of carrying this perception. Before beginning my studies at the University of Chicago Law School, and specifically the school’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHR Clinic), I associated international human rights with human trafficking in North Korea and terrorism in the Middle East. It never struck my mind that international human rights was an issue directly concerning the US. I am sure other Americans can relate.

While co-authoring a report for the IHR Clinic on the shackling of pregnant inmates in the US, however, I came to realize that international human rights violations are a prevalent, yet often ignored, problem in the US. In light of this, I find it quite hypocritical of US institutions to criticize and instruct other nations on how to handle human rights issues. As Jamil pointed out, what impact can the US make on international human rights if we cannot even ratify basic treaties, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? By exempting itself from international human rights norms, our country sets a bad example for other nations.

Jamil also made the point that many civil and political rights issues in the US are also human rights issues. Solitary confinement, for example, is not just a civil rights issue, but also a human rights one. As a result of this interconnectedness, Jamil suggests that in addressing social, political, and civil rights issues, the US government and public also focus on the human rights violations that follow. Various groups are increasingly recognizing the intersection of human rights and other issues in the US and are joining forces with the ACLU to educate, engage, and raise awareness of the importance of international human rights in the country. By doing so, Jamil hopes that the US will affirm its role as a global leader in the international human rights arena and ensure protection of human rights at home.

Video of the presentation may be viewed here.