Welcome to the Loyola University Newsroom

Print this page

‘Men and Women with and for Others’: Loyola Law Student Spends Summer Helping Central American Refugees

Loyola press release - August 25, 2017

Service learning and professional practice are cornerstones of a legal education at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and this summer, third-year law student Kate Richardson of Houston achieved both, working with the family detention team at the Karnes Family Detention Center outside San Antonio, Texas.

Richardson, who will participate in the law school’s renowned immigration clinic during the 2017-2018 academic year and serve as Articles Editor to the Loyola Law Review, spent her summer working with RAICES, a nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. For two-and-a-half months, Richardson put her legal and language skills to work, providing legal assistance to women and children fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum.

Her 10-week internship was supported by a $5,000 grant from Loyola’s Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, which for 30 years has sought to assist the less fortunate, granting students the opportunity to serve the greater good while supplementing their coursework with real world legal research and practice.

“I like working with refugee populations, getting to know stories of people from other parts of the world, understanding the international political crisis as a crisis of the Americas, and getting in on the ground level to help,” Richardson said.

“Unfortunately, because asylum seekers are not U.S. citizens, they are not afforded public defense legal counsel. Law students, especially those who speak Spanish, can help to make a difference at these detention centers, by providing support or pre-legal counsel. The refugee population is a really high-need population so any kind of free assistance is greatly appreciated.”

In spring 2016, Richardson joined immigration law students in a 1-week trip to the Texas detention centers to learn more about the plight of Central American refugees being held in detention and to provide legal assistance under law faculty supervision to the asylum seekers. Then a first-year last student, Richardson served as a translator alongside second- and third-year Loyola law students who assisted in representing the asylum seekers. The trip, designed to introduce aspiring lawyers to current legal challenges and to give them an opportunity to participate in representation of asylum seekers, inspired her to do more.

With two years of law school now under her belt, Richardson served this summer as an advocate for detained women seeking political asylum. She prepared asylum seekers for essential ‘credible fear’ interviews, which serve as a threshold for asylum; defended their cases in immigration court; and helped with appeals.

“This is the kind of work that I want to do, and I am grateful that I was able to gain both exposure and professional practice in this field before graduation,” Richardson said. “I think it’s really great that the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center is willing to find and support internships for Loyola law students both inside and outside Louisiana. They provide quite a bit of freedom, and as a result, Loyola law students are able to pursue exciting opportunities that allow them to pursue their passions, while serving others and gaining valuable professional experience.”

Ferris Family Distinguished Professor of Law M. Isabel Medina, who specializes in gender, family and constitutional law, has over the years led student trips and facilitated Loyola student internships at the Karnes and Dilley Family Detention centers.

“Women and children continue to be detained at Karnes and Dilley Detention Centers in Texas, while government asylum officers and immigration courts determine whether they will be released and allowed to file applications for asylum in the United States or face deportation to the countries whose violence they fled,” Medina said. “They need advocates to help them navigate the legal processes. Volunteers – including interns from the Gillis Long Center – can help to close the gap.”

In late June, professor and student spoke at the annual Law and Society International Conference in Mexico City in a roundtable panel titled “Crowdsourcing Legal Assistance: The Central American Refugee Crisis.” Discussion explored the challenges and benefits of “crowdsourcing legal assistance” to populations unable to afford legal assistance.

The talk took place across the street from the U.S. Embassy, where long lines of Mexicans seeking visas to the U.S. could be seen every morning and afternoon, Medina said.

“The use of temporary volunteers to provide legal assistance to vulnerable populations is receiving considerable national attention,” Medina said. “Temporary volunteers don’t fit the traditional attorney/client representation model, but at the same time these volunteers may be the only legal assistance available to vulnerable populations like the women and children from Central America seeking asylum in the United States.”

In New Orleans, Spanish-speaking Loyola students interested in immigration law can help refugees by working with Catholic Charities, The Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and other nonprofits, Richardson said.