Empowered in the Immigrant Rights Clinic Jose Lopez '24L describes his clinical experience and trip to Mexico City to advise migrants and refugees on the U.S. asylum process.
Jose Lopez ’24L is from Fredericksburg, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary where he received a B.A. in Philosophy and Government. After college, he worked for three years as Mohs histotechnician in his hometown before going back to William and Mary for his Masters of Education and working for two years as a high school math teacher. At W&L, he is a Lead Articles Editor of the Law Review. After graduation, Jose will practice law in Washington, D.C.
Why did you choose to participate in this clinic for your 3L year?
I chose this clinic for two reasons. First, my dad and his family immigrated from Cuba, and so I learned from a young age through my family’s story the power that U.S. immigration law can play in providing people opportunities. Second, I did pro bono immigration work during my summer internship and found that work highly rewarding, and I wanted to continue that work during my third year at W&L.
What surprised you about the work you have done for the clinic?
The biggest surprise to me regarding my clinic work was being tasked as a primary decisionmaker in real clients’ cases. It has been deeply satisfying to see my legal studies culminate in plans of action that make a real difference for our clients.
What was your favorite aspect of your work with the clinic?
My favorite aspect of my clinic work was getting to directly talk and interact with clients. This has been an invaluable experience because it further humanizes the persons for whom we are advocating and allows me to develop confidence in my client interviewing skills.
What was your biggest challenge working in the clinic?
My biggest challenge working in the clinic was transitioning into the role of primary decisionmaker. While at first this felt like a stark juxtaposition to the more traditional role of doctrinal student, it ultimately proved highly beneficial in helping to understand and appreciate the rigors and demands that accompany a real-world immigration practice.
Describe the purpose of your trip this semester to Mexico City with the Immigrant Rights Clinic.
Professor Boaz, Ian Joseph (my clinic partner), and I traveled to Mexico City for two primary reasons. First, Ian and I created a presentation on U.S. asylum law that was delivered in Spanish to residents at Casa Tochan, a Mexico City shelter for refugees and migrants, alongside an accompanying presentation delivered by IBERO University students on Mexican asylum law. Second, after those presentations, various IBERO and W&L law students and professors individually consulted with shelter residents. In those consultations, we learned about their reasons for leaving their countries of origin, what their immigration goals were (most residents wanted to seek asylum in the United States), and advised them as to the likelihood of achieving their immigration goals, alongside tangible next steps to best position themselves to do so.
During our Mexico City trip, we also had several wonderful culinary and cultural experiences. We had amazing tacos, seafood, steak, chicken, churros, and ice cream. We got to see many great parks, some with free outdoor gym equipment! I’ve also never been to such a dog-friendly city! It was not uncommon to see multiple people within a block walking 6-12 dogs at a time. In addition, the Frida Kahlo Museum was a true joy. Seeing the home of such cultural icon, and the daily environment that inspired her, was an amazing and impressionable experience.
What are some your takeaways from this experience?
The things we learn in law school empower us to do good and help, among others, vulnerable individuals facing especially difficult legal situations. This trip, combined with my clinical experience, has reaffirmed my desire to help serve immigrant populations with my pro bono practice post-graduation.
My other takeaway from this experience was that Mexico City has world-class food. If anyone reading this finds themselves in Mexico City, I highly recommend eating at Orinoco, Entremar, Kura, and stopping in at El Moro in the evening for a consuelo for dessert (churro ice cream sandwich).
Has this experience helped you figure out your post graduate plans, and if so how?
Absolutely. My experience in the Immigrant Rights Clinic has affirmed that I want to continue advocating for immigrants at my law firm. The firm where I’ll work after graduation allows each associate to credit a certain number of pro bono hours each year towards his or her yearly hour requirement, and I certainly plan to utilize that ability to continue helping immigrants and aspiring immigrants.