The need for high-quality legal assistance for immigrants and other persons fleeing terrible circumstances is constantly growing in light of the many troublesome situations happening throughout the world. Georgetown Law and undergraduate alumni are stepping up to help make a difference in the lives of such persons, as is the case with five fellows who are part of an organization called Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC).
The IJC fellowship program is dedicated to helping immigrants navigate our country's complex legal and immigration systems to fight deportation, seek citizenship, and keep their families together. These clients include unaccompanied minors, mothers fleeing violence with their children, and other immigrants who’ve risked everything to have a better life. IJS recruits talented recent law and college graduates from the country’s top universities, and then pairs them with leading nonprofit legal service providers and community-based organizations providing legal representation.
The program initially served immigrants in New York City, and has since expanded to serve Lower Hudson Valley, Long Island, and New Jersey. These hard-working recent graduates are happy to be among the next generation of outstanding public service leaders cultivated by Georgetown. Read more on these dedicated young fellows.
While participating in an immigration clinic at Georgetown Law’s Center for Applied Legal Studies, he witnessed the critical difference legal aid was able to make in immigrant clients’ lives. Reichlin-Melnick and classmate Dave Wilkins (C’11, L’14) joined IJC’s first fellowship class which began September 2014. His two-year placement as a Justice Fellow in the Immigration Law Unit of The Legal Aid Society has been very fulfilling, he says.
“What I enjoy most about IJC is the ability to work with a large class of dedicated and extraordinarily talented attorneys who share the same goals of providing high quality immigration representation to populations that are in desperate need of quality legal help,” said Reichlin-Melnick.
During law school, he successfully represented a detained client through the Center for Applied Legal Studies clinic at Georgetown Law. He has worked with Kids in Need of Defense and volunteered with the CAIR Coalition in Washington, D.C.
Recently, IJC connected him with the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program in Newark, New Jersey.The program’s successful integration of legal services, advocacy, and organizing has made a dramatic difference in the lives of immigrants in New Jersey and beyond by ensuring that immigrant voices are heard in policy debates, by assisting immigrants with challenging immigration cases, and by changing the narrative about immigration issues to influence policy.
During law school, she advocated for marginalized immigrants, serving individuals seeking relief from predatory business practices and providing trauma-informed legal services to immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution. Cates also successfully represented a detained individual in removal proceedings, an experience that highlighted the myriad barriers immigrants face in accessing justice. Currently, Cates’ IJC fellowship has her working at Safe Horizon, a nonprofit organization located in New York, where she provides a wide range of legal services to clients ranging from asylum, removal defense, U Visas, VAWA petitions, and other immigration matters.
“My clients motivate and inspire me daily to continue advocating for increased access to justice for immigrant populations living and working in the United States,” she said. Cates is committed to promoting legal and social empowerment among immigrant communities.
Currently, Kizuka works in refugee representation in the New York City office of Human Rights First, where he represents asylum seekers before the New York Immigration Court and the New York Asylum Office. The majority of his clients are women and children from Central America seeking protection in the United States from gang-related and domestic violence.
“The best part of my job is the opportunity to help clients—who have already surmounted incredible odds to escape persecution in their home countries and endured a long and dangerous trek to the reach the southern border of this country—to navigate our heavily backlogged and needlessly bureaucratic immigration system,” said Kizuka.
Previously, he represented detained immigrants in the Washington D.C. area while working in the Center for Applied Legal Studies clinic at Georgetown Law and at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. He also interned with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, an experience that exposed him to multiple perspectives within the immigration system.
Wilkins has found it humbling to counsel his asylum-seeking clients through situations with such high stakes, and inspiring to work with people who have stayed so positive despite having suffered a great deal. He recognizes the vulnerability and extreme challenges that immigrants in our legal system can face, and has dedicated his life to working on their behalf.