Meet our one of our volunteer attorneys,
Catherine Chen. Catherine is currently the Liman Public Interest Law Fellow at the MEDICAL-LEGAL PARTNERSHIP FOR CHILDREN IN HAWAII. Her focus is in the complex area of crimmigration. This past year, Catherine volunteered her time to work on an asylum case with The Refugee & Immigration Law Clinic.
What makes you interested in this field?
First is how strongly I feel that the intertwining of criminal and immigration law has created a bad system, with terrible consequences for immigrant families. People don’t realize that very minor convictions can trigger deportation for non-citizens. This includes non-violent crimes where you don’t spend a day in prison because the state court judge decides that the best punishment is probation, or community service, or a drug rehabilitation program. Then the heavy hammer of immigration law can come down and exile you from everything you know.
What is your typical day working as a Law Fellow with the Medical-Legal Partnership?
What work have you done at the Medical-Legal Partnership that you are most proud of?
What was your experience with asylum law before you came to work with The Clinic?
What was the timeline of your involvement in your asylum case with The Clinic?
Was there anything particularly difficult about your experience representing a Central American family in their asylum case before the Immigration Court and how did you cope with these difficulties?
For me the most difficult is always making clients talk about the worst moments in their life. Asylum cases by definition are going to involve fear and trauma. I try to lessen the trauma for our clients by spending a long time in the beginning explaining the process—what I’m going to ask and why I need to ask it, so they understand and are ready. I actually write out my speech, because over-preparing always helps me cope. I also schedule in wind-down time for myself after interview sessions, because the fears of our clients are real, and as you get to know your client and their story, they can become your fears too.
What advice would you give to attorneys who don't know much about immigration law but would like to volunteer with The Clinic?
I would advise attorneys to just jump right in! Volunteering with The Clinic is a fantastic way to use your abilities as a lawyer to make our community a more just place. So many immigrants have limited English proficiency, varying levels of education and literacy, and no familiarity with the law, but still need to navigate Immigration Court by themselves. There are so many guides and resources on the Internet for attorneys and advocates. And when a quick Google search can’t answer your question, John and Taylor are THE BEST. They have the clients’ best interests in mind always, and they will work with you to meet whatever challenge is thrown your way!