Collaborative New Course Investigation and Fact Development: Immigration Law Provides Student and Faculty Support to Asylum Seekers

March 1, 2022

During the 2021 summer semester, the UNM School of Law (UNM SOL) and University of Idaho (UI) College of Law collaborated for the first time, offering an innovative course entitled Investigation and Fact Development: Immigration Law. This course incorporated elements of both traditional legal education and applied, experiential learning for students, and culminated in a major legal victory for a detained asylum seeker from Haiti. 

colorful map of Haiti

With supervision from immigration law faculty and assistance from translators and interpreters where necessary, students undertook extensive fact development work on behalf of asylum seekers, including one who was held in immigration detention and separated from his wife and child. In that case, they worked to prepare declarations from the client and his family members, a draft asylum application, and other corroboration. Asylum applications are complex to prepare, and asylum seekers often lack access to counsel. The students’ efforts led to preventing the client’s deportation and allowing him to be released from detention so he could be reunited with his family. 

“Without the intervention of his student representatives, the client would have likely been deported to Haiti and subjected to religious persecution,” stated University of Idaho Law professor Geoffrey Heeren. 

The course also gave students the opportunity to connect with other asylum-seeking clients who needed assistance in developing critical aspects of their cases. The students and faculty participating in this course were able to provide legal guidance and assistance to individuals who might not have otherwise had assistance or representation. 

The Investigation and Fact Development: Immigration Law class was a 10-week, 3 credit course with a real client component. Co-instructed by Professor Geoffrey Heeren of the University of Idaho, Ann Delpha of the University of New Mexico and Alison Cimino, a New Mexico immigration attorney, the course included students from both schools. This unique collaboration was a part of the Border Justice Initiative at UNM School of Law which seeks to offer pedagogical opportunities for students and a chance for clients to obtain access to limited legal representation. The course also led to the reuniting of a family and gave law students the foundation to pursue this impactful work in the future.

Most students stated that the experience of taking this course confirmed their aspirations to pursue immigration law work on behalf of asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals in the future. The students’ commitment and dedication to this work underlines the success of this course in building capacity for this under-resourced area. 

UNM School of Law Professor April Land and Initiative Director stated, “The fact development class was a fantastic opportunity to work with law students and faculty from different universities and backgrounds to provide legal services that made a difference to our clients. We all learned from each other and from the clients we served.”