Photos by Cassandra Stephenson
Pepperdine School of Law established the Pepperdine Law Immigration Clinic to provide pro bono legal counsel to students, faculty and staff affected by recent immigration policy and DACA changes. According to the Pepperdine School of Law Surf Report website, representation is limited to basic advice, counsel and referrals.
Pepperdine School of Law Director of Clinical Education and Associate Clinical Professor of Law Jeffrey Baker and Pepperdine University School of Law Director of the Restoration and Justice Clinic and Assistant Clinical Professor Tanya Cooper are two of the supervising law professors for the immigration clinic. Both Baker and Cooper write for the Clinical Law Prof Blog, a website that is part of a network of blogs edited primarily by law school professors.
Baker said the Pepperdine Law Immigration Clinic was established at the initiative of President Andrew K. Benton and his Chief of Staff Marnie Mitze in response to student, faculty and staff concerns in the wake of President Trump’s executive order regarding immigration and international travel.
“So we responded with a suggestion that we could provide some pro bono legal services through the legal clinics here at the law school,” Baker said. The proposal was to run a pilot program with clinical faculty at the School of Law and law student volunteers and retain an outside lawyer, Baker said.
Cooper said the purpose of the immigration clinic is “to respond to the needs of our community, to reassure our community that Pepperdine is fully supportive and then to really go one step further in providing brief advice and counsel directly through the new Immigration Legal Clinic that we’ve established as a result and also connect students and faculty and staff.”
Cooper said the clinic is responding as the need has arisen. “That’s what we do as practicing lawyers and law school teachers in helping students rally to meet the needs of other students,” Cooper said.
“The work that we do is, broadly, to provide access to justice for people who can’t afford lawyers or don’t have access to the legal system,” Baker said. “That’s how we teach and that’s the work we do through our clinic.”
Baker said changes in immigration policy affect every area of practice. “Several of our clients who work with farmers and day laborers and the homeless and victims of trafficking and domestic violence all are affected by changes in immigration law,” Baker said.
Current clients of the Law Immigration clinic are Pepperdine students, but Baker said the goal is to expand to provide legal services for others as well.
Cooper said the Law Immigration Clinic already has clients for their confidential services and about 15 law school students have volunteered to help.
“We really want to get the word out and if students, faculty, or staff are concerned with how this affects them, they should absolutely come and talk with us,” Cooper said. “That’s why we are here and we can hopefully connect them with the right information.”
Pepperdine does not track students’ immigration statuses, Baker said, so the number of possible future clients is not known. He also said that the information clients share with the clinic’s lawyers is confidential. “What we are trying to do is create resources for the students who are [undocumented] so that they can find us and seek out our help if they need it,” Baker said.
The clinic is working with other on-campus representatives organized by Benton, with Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Diversity and Inclusion David Humphrey serving as point person of the university’s coordinated response, Baker said. “We are providing a part of that [response] in conjunction with the Chaplain’s Office and the counseling center and all of these other representatives from each of the five schools,” Baker said.
Baker said feedback the clinic has received is overwhelmingly positive. “There has not been a moment of criticism so far,” Baker said. “We have had incredible support from central administration. As we have already said, we have had an outpouring of support from law students who want to help their classmates and co-students at Pepperdine to make sure that they are in good hands.” Baker said the clinic has received support from representatives of Pepperdine’s five schools as well as financial support from the university to retain an immigration attorney.
Cooper said she has also received positive feedback about the clinic. “The clients that we have so far are very grateful for those free legal services and the reassurance, somebody to shepherd them through what is a very confusing and complex area of the law and to know that Pepperdine has their back,” Cooper said.
People from outside the Pepperdine community also shared positive feedback, Baker said. “They did not expect that this is a move that Pepperdine would make on its own initiative. It has been exciting for me to be able to show people a face of Pepperdine that is the Pepperdine we know it to be, which is a generous and inclusive community that really wants to do the right thing, especially in tumultuous times,” Baker said.
Baker said he is glad that the clinic has been able to include student volunteers, he said. “We are in a sweet spot where we can at once increase our own capacity by using law students as volunteers and watch them bring all of their talents to bear on a very serious problem but we also get to use that situation to help them to become better lawyers, themselves,” Baker said. “So it is the joy of our work to be able to watch students use their power, and their intellect, and their skill but then also grow as they become really excellent professionals with a heart for justice.”
Cooper said there are different ways that she measures the success of the program. “Now, as we hear from students who are affected [coming] with global concerns and discrete questions, many need brief counsel and advice as well as an understanding of the process,” Cooper said. “Some of them also need direct legal services.” Cooper said listening to the needs of students and responding to these needs with information and emotional support is what she considers success for the program.
Baker measures success in a similar way, he said, with providing good services for clients as the primary goal. “Our clients here are students who are facing these issues so we will make sure that they are empowered and educated, have the ability to make smart decisions in a changing environment,” Baker said. Providing good experiences for School of Law students and creating a stronger community within the university are also measures of success, Baker said.
The goal is to expand the clinic in the future, as it is currently staffed by School of Law professors and students who are volunteering their time, Baker said. “To improve this already excellent program, to make it sustainable, to make it ongoing, to make it more effective, we need to find a way to build this out and institutionalize it to find sustainable support and to create a platform that can continue even as this area of law continues to expand and become all the more unpredictable.”
Professors Cooper and Baker are two of the four professors who are running the Pepperdine Law Immigration Clinic, Baker said. Students who need assistance or have questions can also contact Professors Brittany Stringfellow-Otey and Isai Cortez.
Cooper reaffirmed the desire of the law clinic workers to help. “If members of our community have questions or feel insecure that they should reach out to us,” Cooper said. “We are here to help.”
Students can find Pepperdine’s policies regarding DACA as well as Frequently Asked Questions regarding immigration on the General Counsel website.
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