2022 RILC END OF YEAR LETTER
December 31, 2022
2022 has been an eventful year for the Refugee & Immigration Law Clinic at the William S. Richardson School of Law.
First and foremost, I want to thank RILC’s founding director, John Egan, who retired in July. We are all deeply grateful for his service to the law school and the Hawai‘i community. John was instrumental in reestablishing the immigration clinic at Richardson as well as starting RILC’s postgraduate law fellowship, which gives recent Richardson graduates entry-level training in the field. John’s close colleagues, students, and friends honored his years of service at a retirement party at the end of July. However, even though he has retired, we were delighted that he could join us for RILC’s beach day in the North Shore in September and our all-clinic Kona trip in November.
I became the Director of RILC beginning in August. RILC’s postgraduate law fellow Ethan Higa, who had spent one year working with John already, helped ease the transition for me. RILC’s advisory committee greatly assisted me as well. Heartfelt thanks to Ethan and Committee members Jan Tamura, Kevin Block, John Egan, Stephanie Haro-Sevilla, Maile Hirota, Corianne Lau, and Krysti Uranaka-Yamashiro.
In my brief time at RILC, I have witnessed how special and important the clinic is to its students and clients. Immigration lawyers are unusually focused on places, as our work typically involves helping people get from one place to another. As such, I’d like to summarize RILC’s work this year through the lens of the many different “places” where RILC’s work of educating law students while serving immigrants in our community happens.
Part of RILC’s work takes place in the classroom, where Richardson law students learn doctrinal immigration law in the Immigration Law course and clinical lawyering skills in the Immigration Law Clinic course.
In November, we had the honor of having a friend of RILC from Afghanistan share her experiences with the Immigration Law class: being unable to continue and falling behind in her education for years during the earlier Taliban regime because of her identity as a woman; her joyful memories of her father’s garden and Eid feasts with family and friends; a photograph of the last time she and her family, who are now scattered around the globe, gathered in her parents’ home; and their harrowing escape from Kabul on August 15, 2021.
In December, Richardson also served as the venue for a USCIS-sponsored community training on building a citizenship education program as well as an Oath Ceremony for twelve of Hawaii’s newest citizens. We were happy to assist the Director of the USCIS Office of Citizenship and other staff in both the Washington, D.C. office and the local Honolulu field office with their outreach and community engagement efforts on O‘ahu.
THE CLINICAL LAW BUILDING
THE KONA COAST
Last year, with the generous donation of office space at the Immaculate Conception Church in Holualoa, John began monthly “pop up” legal clinics on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. This year, we continued to provide this service to the community of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors from Central America who live there, many of whom work picking coffee and building rock walls in Kona, and cannot afford to make trips to meet with us in Honolulu. Every second Saturday of the month, a group of students, Ethan, and I would fly into Kona early in the morning; counsel existing clients and prospective clients at the church throughout the day; and catch the last flight back to Honolulu in the evening.
Once a semester, we take all the clinic students for the weekend to give them an opportunity to meet our clients where they live and conduct intakes “in the field.” This November, we also had a few hours’ opportunity to visit some sites on the Kona Coast that hold special meaning to RILC and our work: the Imin Community Center, which was built by Japanese immigrants to Kona, as well as Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a sacred place of refuge for Hawaiians.
This year, RILC students represented clients at several Individual Hearings (i.e., trials in front of an administrative judge) in Immigration Court. RILC won asylum for a mother and her children fleeing persecution by a powerful gang leader as well as a young woman fleeing sexual violence, all of them from Central America.
Under my supervision, RILC students did the time- intensive work of preparing for trial, from gathering statements and evidence (often from other countries), writing a trial brief, preparing clients for direct and cross-examination, and drafting closing statements. On the day of the trial, the students handled objections, responded to the judge’s questions, and formulated questions for redirect. For all the students, these hearings were their first appearances in court, and incredibly educational and formative experiences.
I want to thank especially the Sanctuary team at Harris United Methodist Church, led by Nicole Woo, for their generosity in paying for our clients’ flights to O‘ahu for their hearings, providing them a place to stay the night before their hearings, and transporting our clients to and from the airport.
As I reflect on the past year and prepare for the year ahead, I would like to thank you for generously donating to and supporting RILC. Our work of training the next generation of lawyers and ensuring human rights and access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in our society has never been more important. Without you, none of this would be possible. All of us at RILC are deeply grateful for your support every day.
May your year ahead be wonderful!
With much aloha,
Esther Sungeun Yoo