Fellow Story

Fellow Spotlight: Nicole Alanko

Meet Nicole, a third year Justice Fellow assigned to the William & Mary Law School Immigration Clinic, her alma mater. Last month, Nicole received outstanding news – her Clinic won its first asylum case!

As a Fellow in the Immigration Clinic, Nicole works closely with law students to serve immigrants in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Clinic is the only nonprofit legal service provider staffed by attorneys doing immigration law in the area.

“There’s no such thing as a public defender in immigration proceedings,” Nicole said. “We’re the closest thing that exists to that, so making sure immigrants get the representation they need is really, really important to me.”

Nicole’s client, 19-year-old Ms. O., came to the United States when she was 17, fleeing gender-based violence from a gang in Honduras. Designated an unaccompanied minor, she moved to Virginia after being released from detention. Because of the pandemic, she had difficulty finding counsel. Her social worker eventually referred her to the Immigration Clinic in 2020, two years after she arrived in the United States. After accepting her for representation, Nicole and one of the Clinic students worked on her affirmative asylum case, a process that usually takes weeks and sometimes months to prepare.

“Drafting affidavits is a delicate process where we work to not retraumatize a client,” Nicole explained. “Country conditions research that supports all of our legal claims also takes time to find and organize in a persuasive way.”

So, Nicole was surprised when she discovered on a Monday that Ms. O’s asylum interview was scheduled for the following Thursday. Her team had days – not weeks – to prepare her client’s case.

“The work of the Immigration Clinic students all semester truly came together in those three days, and they filed nearly 1,000 pages of evidence with the asylum office,” Nicole said.

Nicole accompanied Ms. O. to the asylum interview. During the emotional four-hour interview, Ms. O. told the asylum officer about her dream of attending college, the violence she suffered in Honduras, and her goal to succeed in the United States. A few weeks after the interview, the asylum office informed Nicole that Ms. O’s asylum application had been granted.

“She did an incredible job advocating for herself,” Nicole said. “I’m so proud that she can look forward to a safe and bright future here in the United States.”

For Nicole, this clinic’s first asylum case win represents what it means to increase access to justice. Positive outcomes are rare when immigrants lack representation. As IJC expands its presence to additional states, more Fellows like Nicole can provide counsel to immigrants who would otherwise have to face an adversarial immigration system alone. Ms. O’s story exemplifies how having more attorneys on the ground in underrepresented geographies makes a big difference. As Nicole helps train the next generation of immigration lawyers, her work has a multiplier effect in the communities that need it most.

To date, IJC has trained 230 Fellows that have assisted over 80,000 immigrants and their families, with a 90% success rate in completed cases. With your support, we can train more Fellows like Nicole to provide quality counsel to immigrants who need it most.