A digest of recent advocacy, achievements, and outcomes
Immigrant Rights Clinic
In addition to their direct assistance to clients seeking asylum and relief from deportation, student attorneys in the Immigrant Rights Clinic have been building resources and support for asylum-seekers who cannot pay for an attorney or secure help from nonprofits. They are supervised in these efforts by Clinical Professor Kate Evans and Senior Lecturing Fellow Shane Ellison, the clinic’s director and supervising attorney, respectively.
Earlier this year, third-year students Kate Weaver, Luis Basurto Villanueva, and Andrea Guzman launched a website and toolkit to provide guidance to asylum seekers following a federal settlement in Mendez Rojas v. Wolf. The resource was designed to aid parties assisting asylum-seekers from any country and pro se claimants themselves.
Guzman and Weaver presented the electronic toolkit in a webinar hosted by the American Immigration Council in March that attracted nearly 450 participants nationwide, making it one of the organization’s best attended sessions ever.
Twenty-four Duke Law students teamed up with students from UNC’s School of Law and the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to volunteer their time and provide the first workshop in the state for asylum-seekers who do not have attorneys and are facing deportation in immigration court. The pro se workshop assisted 20 families in filing their asylum applications in order to secure their rights in immigration court.
Student have also developed a toolkit of resources to aid pro bono student volunteers and attorneys working with Afghan evacuees who arrived in North Carolina after the mass airlift from Kabul last August. To date, the state has accepted about 1,200 evacuees, many of whom require assistance with the complex process of pursuing long-term immigration relief, including screening for asylum eligibility.
The initiative emerged from the work of Weaver and Mary Chandler Beam ’22 in guiding a client through the process of seeking a Special Immigrant Visa through a program that grants permanent residence to people who worked for the U.S. government abroad (his visa was approved in March) and preparing his application for asylum.
The toolkit includes a draft legal asylum brief and an indexed library of relevant country conditions and human rights reports. It was used by 32 first-year law student volunteers with the Duke Afghan Asylum Project who assisted 10 Afghan families seeking asylum.
“These asylum-seekers and their families risked so much to help Americans in Afghanistan, so I am glad that we are now able to make their immigration process easier as part of our duty to them,” said Guzman, who was the lead writer for the template legal cover letter. “I hope that this work can be shared with other law students and attorneys across the nation so that many more Afghan refugees can have legal assistance in applying for asylum.”
Launched in 2020 at Duke Law with a gift from the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation, the Immigrant Rights Clinic recently received an additional commitment from the foundation that will support its operations for the next five years.
International Human Rights Clinic
In February, the International Human Rights Clinic launched an interactive website that tracks international responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that advance civil and political, equality, governance, and socioeconomic rights.
The index, titled “Catalyzing Rights: Index of Advances During COVID-19,” contains more than 200 measures across 20 categories of human rights ranging from digital rights and fiscal policy responses to racial and gender equality. It serves as both an accountability tool and a way to help advance a more rights-centric approach to the pandemic and beyond, said Clinical Professor of Law Aya Fujimura-Fanselow, the clinic’s supervising attorney.
“While the pandemic has both uncovered and intensified human rights violations, governments have also put into place measures that not only protect but even promote and advance rights,” she said. “By identifying such measures, our tracker will help hold governments to account, enable a re-imagining of what is possible, and equip human rights advocates with additional strategies to achieve these goals.”
More than 20 clinic students and summer interns contributed to the project, identifying, researching, and analyzing hundreds of measures, extensively reviewing a wide range of human rights laws, and interviewing representatives of civil society groups. Rights addressed include civil and political rights (freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, technology and digital rights); equality (children, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+, migration, asylum, and trafficking, persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, reproductive rights, and violence against women); governance (economic and fiscal policy responses, environmental justice, rule of law, voting and elections); and socioeconomic rights (education, employment, health, housing, water, and sanitation).
To determine which measures to include in the tracker, the clinic engaged in a rigorous process of reviewing international human rights treaties and guidance from human rights bodies, regional and international institutions, and NGOs focused on the protection and fulfillment of rights during the pandemic. Measures were included if, on their face, they contain at least one element tracking international human rights norms.
“The tracker fills an important gap in current human rights analyses of the pandemic,” said Clinical Professor Jayne Huckerby, the clinic’s director. “By developing and applying comprehensive criteria for what constitutes progress in rights’ protections, it provides concrete and detailed examples of where governments are moving in the right direction, even if they are not yet fully complying with all of their obligations.”
Said Gaby Jassir JD/LLM ’22, who was involved in the project from inception to launch: “During a time in which we were dealing with so much uncertainty, imagining a world where policies can be used to further the field of human rights is very inspiring. The global scope of the project, including centering within our research methodology strategies to identify measures from countries whose successful policies tend to receive less attention, was extremely fulfilling as well.”
The clinic will continue to add measures to the index through user submissions and will include in-depth analytical briefing papers on how certain rights can be advanced rather than undermined during a pandemic.
Wrongful Convictions Clinic
In December, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper granted a pardon of innocence to Wrongful Convictions Clinic client Howard Dudley, who spent nearly 24 years in prison rather than take a plea or parole deal and admit to a crime he didn’t commit. The pardon marked the fourth facilitated by the clinic over the course of a year.
Dudley, a Kinston, N.C., resident, was convicted in 1992 of sexually assaulting his then 9-year-old daughter, who soon afterward recanted her claim of abuse. Sentenced to life in prison, he was released in March 2016 by a superior court judge who called Dudley’s conviction “an injustice.” The judge cited legal flaws in his trial that included an inexperienced defense attorney who never filed a motion or consulted an expert witness, according to The News & Observer, which published a four-part series on the case in 2005 that led to its referral to the Wrongful Convictions Clinic.
Charles S. Rhyne Clinical Professor Emerita Theresa Newman ’88, who led the clinic team that represented Dudley, and Supervising Attorney Jamie T. Lau ’09, notified Dudley of his pardon, a prerequisite to his subsequent and successful application for compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction and incarceration. Dudley received the maximum amount allowed by North Carolina law, $750,000, as did three other clinic clients:
» Ronnie Long, for whom Lau was lead counsel, who was exonerated in August 2020 after spending 44 years in prison and received a pardon of innocence in December 2020;
» Dontae Sharpe, for whom Newman served as lead counsel, who was exonerated in August 2019 after spending 24 years in prison and received a pardon of innocence in November 2021; and
» Charles Ray Finch, who was exonerated in May 2019 after spending more than 40 years in prison and who received a pardon of innocence in June of 2021. John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law James E. Coleman, Jr., the clinic’s director, took up Finch’s case before the clinic was established in 2007 and led a 15-year legal battle on his behalf. Finch died on Jan. 24 at the age of 83.