For immigrants facing the threat of deportation or pursuing lawful status and citizenship, quality counsel changes everything. IJC Fellows win over 90% of the immigration cases they take on, but the case resolution is only a small part of the relationship between Fellow and client. Fellows support clients for years, helping them navigate the immigration system, sickness, and other obstacles.
In this series – How Fellows make a difference — three Fellows share their experiences helping clients through challenging periods, remaining steadfast in their advocacy and support, and demonstrating the impact of quality representation.
Meet Vanessa Reyes, a Second-Year Justice Fellow representing detained immigrants in removal proceedings in Baltimore with CAIR Coalition. Vanessa describes her experience getting creative to support a client facing mental health challenges.
I began working with JFC in early May. JFC, who suffers from severe mental health issues, had attended his first master calendar hearing pro se. When the judge asked him questions regarding his immigration case, he was very confused and mistakenly accepted an order for deportation.
As eager as I was to accept the case, I was not aware of what awaited me. This was my first case working with a client with severe mental health issues, and the client was also detained in a center that had just taken away all private calls between attorneys and their clients. I was now left with short 10 minute calls with a client that barely knew how to call me.
It was difficult in the beginning to communicate with my client due to the lack of private calls, but what I found even more difficult was how to communicate with someone that did not really understand the questions I was asking him. I found myself in a position where I had to forget everything I knew about client communication and find a new strategy on how to communicate. I found simple methods – speaking slowly, being patient — that helped me get the information I needed. I was able to submit his motion to reopen within two days of receiving his case. The judge granted his motion to reopen the following week, and JFC was overjoyed with the news that he had a new opportunity to fight his case.
In that moment I realized how especially important it is for someone dealing with mental health issues to have an attorney with them during their hearings. Fortunately, JFC’s case was discovered right on time, but it made me think – how many cases have there been where a client does not understand the proceedings against them and they accidentally accept an order for deportation and unfortunately do not have the help of an attorney to help them reopen their case?
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