Students in Georgia State Law’s new Immigration Clinic won its first merits hearing for their client at the Atlanta Immigration Court.
The student team of Cruz Espitia (J.D. ’21) and Haley Solomon (J.D. ’22) represented a young woman who arrived in the U.S. from Guatemala at the age of 15. Clinical supervising attorney, Will Miller, helped the students prepare, but once inside of the courtroom, they handled everything, including evidence admission, direct examination and closing arguments.
“Our client was overcome with emotion following the hearing,” Miller said. “Haley and Cruz’s work changed her life, literally. The client getting her green card is and should be the headline, but Cruz and Haley’s performance at our first ever merits hearing signaled to the Atlanta Immigration Court that the clinic brings serious cases, argued by serious advocates.”
The client, who was referred to the clinic by the Latin American Association, had been awaiting her day in court for four and a half years. Espitia and Solomon began working on her case at the beginning of this fall semester. They educated themselves quickly in the law surrounding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which was the basis for the client’s green card application. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, the students identified, collected and filed all necessary evidence with the immigration court.
“I was tasked with delivering the closing argument at trial, so I had to make sure that I was fully prepared,” Espitia said. “I drafted my closing argument and practiced it over and over again. I practiced it in my living room, driving home and to school and when I was ironing my clothes for trial. Our client’s case was simply too important for me to not commit enough time to make sure I presented the best closing argument in her favor at trial.”
After an arduous journey, the immigration judge granted her application for Lawful Permanent Residence, or a green card. In five years, she will be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
“This has been the best experience of my law school career so far,” Solomon said. “At times I felt worried that I would be unable to be the best lawyer possible for my client given my relative inexperience, but this experience taught me that with hard work and preparation, I am able to be a strong advocate and help my client achieve their goals. The best part of the experience was the look on the client’s face when the judge announced that he would be granting her petition for adjustment of status– she was beaming! This is an experience that I am sure I will take with me in the remainder of my legal career.”
The Immigration Clinic opened in January 2020 to help address the shortage of immigration attorneys and the backlog of immigration cases in Georgia. The clinic is currently representing twelve clients, in a variety of cases that include asylum, the T visa (human trafficking survivors) and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. For more information, visit law.gsu.edu/immigration.
Written by Kelundra Smith