Tuesday, February 7, 2017
As a Transactional Clinical Professor in Appalachia, you may be surprised to learn I recently included this topic in my seminar. I believe it is our duty as lawyers to think critically about the world and systems around us. We may not be experts in immigration or water rights or policing, but attorneys should bear witness and parse through emotional reactions to unpack (or issue spot) legitimate concerns. All lawyers must be engaged in justice and my students, who advocate for economic opportunity, are no different.
My learning goals for exploring the “Muslim Ban” are:
- Connect troubling current events with the law
- Explore the justice implications and human consequences of these events
- Explore our impact as lawyers and the importance of bearing witness (“showing up”)
- Connect these concepts to our clients, their communities, and their realities to engender empathy for all families and individuals at risk.
I always use multimedia as a means to ease into politically sensitive topics. My students find multimedia to be refreshing addition to standard legal reading assignments (statutes, cases, regulations, and even the occasional executive order). Additionally, multimedia forces students to think about laws in action rather than in a vacuum. The voice over the radio or facial expression on film is far more persuasive, often telling a personal and compelling story. Even those who disagree will at least be forced to listen (literally).
For this assignment, I used two podcasts along with the text of the executive order. The premise is exploring how contracts (Powers of Attorney, Guardianship Agreements) could provide some security or protection to families who are separated. In order to discuss the contracts, we needed to understand the situation causing the separation.
We start by discussing the groups targeted by the Executive Order. We explore the colloquial use of “Muslim Ban” despite the word Muslim not appearing in the text. We discuss the underlying national security justifications. I explain that this will serve as our benchmark when considering the collateral consequences and tensions with our understanding of “justice.”
I use the multimedia to illustrate these human collateral consequences. The first podcast is an episode of This American Life, titled “Taking Names.” It chronicles the story of Kirk Johnson, who worked for USAID during the reconstruction of Fallujah, Iraq. Kirk began a list of Iraqis marked for retaliation based on their cooperation with the U.S. Military and other U.S. agencies. It is a heartbreaking portrait of the families and individuals seeking asylum. The podcast also outlines the rigorous, existing vetting mechanisms for refugees. Using a slightly dated podcast also reinforces that the plight of refugees, the vetting process, and national security concerns are not new. I do this because a large percentage of the state supported the current administration. To make sure students listen, I must make it clear that this is a longstanding problem exacerbated by the “Muslim Ban.” We then begin discussing the justice implications of the ban. Are these refugees a threat? When comparing the national security concerns with the existing process and human consequences, do we understand the tensions, problems, and subsequent outrage?
For my students, I must also reinforce that transactional lawyers are not exempt from these larger justice conversations. We may not be immigration lawyers, but can still contribute. The second podcast is an interview with fellow Clinical Professor Sarah Sherman-Stokes and helps my students understand our role in justice. Sarah is one of the stellar Clinicians at Boston University and works in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Sarah discusses her experience in being a lawyer and law professor at Logan. My students were particularly moved by Sarah’s retelling of bringing Entrepreneurship Clinic Students to the airport. She uses the phrase “show up” and reiterates how our legal training, even as students, gives us the skills to interview, fact gather, and be of use. The full podcast is available here.
I conclude the class by discussing ways my Clinic can help communities, families, and individuals prepare for these circumstances through our transactional skills. We discuss how basic contracts like Guardianship Agreements and Powers of Attorney can help families plan for disasters. We discuss the importance of educating the public, helping them understand the guardianship hearings and family law system. Can we collaborate with the family law clinic to create a teach-in or general self-help or legal advocacy tools for families? We discuss who in our communities could benefit from this – individuals seeking in-patient treatment, individuals fearing arrest, etc. We revisit that parents seeking to protect their children exist in all communities. We have the skills to help them understand their rights and even draft basic agreements to protect their loved ones. We must remember - we are in a position of power in a time of great uncertainty.