When Laura Barrera entered law school, she knew she wanted to make a career out of defending people against oppressive systems.
Now, years later, Barrera is helping law students learn how to do the same through a new immigration law clinic at Ohio State University.
The clinic, which starts in the fall, will be a combination of classroom time and real-world experience that will give up to eight students at the Moritz College of Law the opportunity to learn how to represent immigrants in legal proceedings, often those that could end in their removal from the country.
“It’s really special as a student to have that opportunity to learn to provide a real service to people and helping people while also having a space where someone is an expert and they can ask questions,” Barrera said. “We’re often helping people stay with their families and helping people stay safe.”
The clinic not only will help students learn about immigration law by handling real cases, but it will provide a service to the community in the form of free legal services, said Barrera, a visiting assistant clinical professor of law at Ohio State and director of the new clinic.
In immigration court, immigrants are not provided an attorney by the government, so they have to find one of the few pro bono attorneys in Columbus or find a way to pay for one.
Despite the fact that more immigrants live in Columbus than any other Ohio city, there are no other local organizations providing pro bono services for deportation defense locally, said Amy Bittner, a Columbus immigration attorney who takes pro bono or low-cost immigration cases as she is able.
Bittner, who began teaching immigration law at Ohio State in 2017, is excited about the clinic and its potential for a positive impact on the immigrant community locally, as well as students, who seem to be more and more interested in the topic.