History Program Provides Crucial Research for Immigration Law Clinic Cases

The History Program and the RWU School of Law collaborate on pro bono immigration cases, providing important services for clients and invaluable learning opportunities for students.

By Julia Rubin
Students preparing for case in classroom.
Director of the RWU Law Clinic and Associate Clinic Professor Deborah Gonzalez '04 L'07 observes as RWU Law Student Shea Griffin '18 practices for an upcoming case.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Last spring, the RWU Immigration Law Clinic picked up a case. Their client was in detained in Boston and in removal proceedings to determine whether or not he would be sent back to his home country of Honduras. Third- year law student Briana Clyne `19 and Immigration Law Clinic Director Deborah Gonzalez went to visit the client at the Boston Immigration Court to hear his story. 

“His case was a withholding of removal case, which means you have to show that he suffered past persecution,” said Clyne. “His was based on his membership of a social group and his political opinion.” 

Clyne, though not yet graduated, was already able to represent the client under Deborah Gonzalez’s supervision and law license. In this immersive, experiential course that serves members of the community, law students do everything a lawyer would do.   

“They’re doing everything from interviewing clients, developing theories, writing legal memorandum, filing pleadings and making legal arguments in court,” said Gonzalez. 

Upon interviewing her new client, and learning that he was persecuted by Honduran police in 2010, Clyne encountered a challenge that many practicing immigration lawyers have – a need for more historical context. In order to make a solid argument about the political persecution her client was facing, Clyne needed an expert. 

With this being a pro-bono clinic, and the case moving quickly, Clyne and Gonzalez didn’t have the money or time to hire an expert witness, as one might do for a case like this one. Luckily, they found one, right here in the history department at RWU. 

Associate Professor of History Autumn Quezada-Grant works as an expert witness writing declarations that help back up attorneys’ arguments. Quezada-Grant provided Clyne and Gonzalez with a history of the Honduran government. 

In her declaration, she noted that there was a coup in 2010, which led to various human rights violations. It was this piece of critical information that supported their client’s claim of political persecution in that very same year. The historical context was crucial for the legal argument that would grant the client withholding of removal.  

Due to tightening immigration laws, this is just one of the many cases for which Quezada-Grant has been asked to provide a declaration. This offers a rich learning opportunity for RWU history majors to directly apply their learning to a timely and incredibly important cause.

“In all my classes, I always talk about this work that I do to demonstrate to my students that historians are highly versatile and can always take their knowledge and apply it in order to help people,” said Quezada-Grant. 

Students who take great interest in this work can intern with Quezada-Grant, doing research on immigration cases. In the future, alongside the Latin American and Latino studies program, Quezada-Grant plans to teach a course focused on migration and dislocation coming out of Latin America. Students will learn about particular issues that immigrants from these countries face, so that they can better understand what is going on the news, and if they’re interested, help with the ongoing influx of immigration cases. 

Just as having access to an entire history department helps law students understand the world in order to make sound arguments, having access to the law school helps history majors see the direct impact of their research. 

“They get to work with the community in which they’re embedded,” said Quezada-Grant. “This law clinic helps people right here in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. As students are watching the TV and they hear about the border – well the border is right here.”