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Photos courtesy of Alex Vernon

Law students get behind-the-scenes look at immigration law and policies

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Detroit Mercy Law students Cory Gutterman and Sharbel Massoud recently had the opportunity to visit sites of governmental and non-governmental actors involved in adjudication of benefits, law enforcement, client representation and political advocacy.

The two-week interactive practicum in May, the result of a grant from the Dewitt C. Holbrook Memorial Trust, exposed the duo to a wide range of immigration law and policy issues, with select comparisons between U.S. and Canadian law and policy, with a uniquely Detroit perspective.

The practicum was the result of a grant from the Dewitt C. Holbrook Memorial Trust. The grant supports Detroit Mercy Law’s Legal Immersion Detroit project, which aims to further legal training and education in Detroit and encourage students to commit to the city and legal reforms that will increase opportunities for all Detroiters.

In Detroit, the two students visited the offices of Homeland Security Investigations, the Detroit Immigration Court, the ACLU of Michigan, the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center, the Chaldean Community Foundation, Freedom House, Central United Methodist Church, the International Institute of Detroit, and the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy.

Canadian stops included the Windsor Refugee Office and presentations from Windsor Law professor Anneke Smit, whose research includes work on the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons; and Canadian human rights lawyer Erin Simpson, who sits on the National Executive of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL), is co-chair of CARL’s Advocacy Committee, and currently acts as counsel to Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches in a legal challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

A service component of the practicum included visits with Canadian migrant workers organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), a volunteer-run political nonprofit collective comprised of activists from diverse walks of life (including labor activists, educators, researchers, students and youth of color) based in Toronto and Vancouver.

The two students also gave assistance at pro-bono legal service clinics with some of the partner organizations.

The Canadian visits were of particular interest to Gutterman, a rising 2L student in the dual JD program with the University of Windsor Faculty of Law and a Windsor resident and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where he assisted with research into immigration detention and deportation.

Massoud, an alumnus of the University of Michigan-Flint with a major in political science and minor in economics, was attracted to the study of law for its analytical and tactical approach, and power to impact lives. 

Before this practicum, Sharbel was not particularly familiar with the practice of immigration law.

“From the outside, it seems like a niche, in which immigration attorneys just file paperwork for basic things,” he says. “In practice, and after these two weeks, it’s a lot more than that. I wouldn’t call it a niche anymore, but a vast field requiring its own expertise and studies.”

The two-week experience made a big impact on the Grand Blanc native, who now makes his home in Birmingham.

“The coolest experiences were when I got to go hands-on, and all the insight I gained from each individual’s experience,” he says. “I’ve really begun to understand the plight each of these immigrants go through in pursuit of being able to legally live in America. The most rewarding part was being able to hear all the individual’s stories—even if they were bad—and test my knowledge in helping them to the best of my abilities.

“A big thanks to professors Alex Vernon and Andrew Moore for hosting this wonderful immersion class and teaching us things along the way.”

“Our students were exposed to a wide variety of immigration issues, and the people they affect,” Vernon says. “Perhaps the highlight for me was the fact that one of the individuals we visited in detention is now bonded out and safely with her family.”

“Seeing the various components of our immigration system in action helps give the students a context for their classroom experiences,” Moore says. “As they learn the black letter law, they better understand how the law creates a system that produces outcomes.”

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