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Advocating for Immigrants

September 12, 2023

Camilla Samuelsson L'25
Camilla Samuelsson L’25

Interning with the Legal Aid Society’s immigration law unit gave Camilla Samuelsson L’25 hands-on experience representing clients in deportation proceedings.

This summer, I worked at the Legal Aid Society (LAS) in New York City in their Immigration Law Unit. Specifically, I had the privilege of working with LAS’s branch of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a team of attorneys and legal workers who provide public defense to detained individuals in deportation proceedings. NYIFUP is the nation’s first universal representation program for detained immigrants, and I was excited to have such a unique opportunity to learn the complexities of the immigration system.

As an Immigration Law Unit intern, I saw both client intake and the conclusion of cases. I worked with clients and cases relating to religious persecution, trafficking, domestic violence and abuse, gang violence, and indigenous identity. My work also involved complex “crimmigration” matters, including research on the “categorial approach” which is used to determine whether a state criminal conviction triggers deportability or inadmissibility under federal immigration law.

Honing Essential Lawyering Skills

As early as my first week, I began to delve into my supervising attorneys’ cases. My first assignment was preparing a closing argument in preparation for a cancelation of removal Individual Hearing. I started the summer curious about litigation, and this assignment was an exciting way to learn about a challenging form of immigration relief, as well as observe how lawyers prepare for a court hearing. I worked on this case throughout the summer, helping with testimony preparation and crafting a pre-hearing brief, leveraging tools I gained in Legal Practice Skills (LPS).

Additionally, I communicated with the friends and relatives of clients, almost exclusively in Spanish, to prepare for custody hearings and to prepare prosecutorial discretion requests. One of my supervisors had a teenage client seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. In preparation for a family court hearing, I led meetings with the client to walk him through testimony on his life experiences. Recognizing the extremely challenging testimony the client had to recall, I worked with patience and kindness, hoping to establish trust. These experiences helped me gain exposure to direct-client interaction, apply my Spanish language skills in a professional setting, and explore creative arguments to zealously advocate for clients.

Advocating for Underserved Communities

As the summer progressed, I observed cases where steps toward relief were granted for my supervisors’ clients, as well as cases where the judge issued an order of deportation. Winning relief for detained clients is no easy feat. It was inspiring to see attorneys advocate persistently, despite challenges including virtual hearings and client transfers to detention centers as far away as Louisiana.

This summer solidified my desire to work with underserved communities and across cultural identities as an attorney. I aspire to work in civil rights law, hoping to combine my interests in immigrant rights, criminal defense, and racial and juvenile justice. This summer was the perfect way to gain exposure to these areas of law and how they intersect. I am excited to continue learning how to be an advocate for the communities around me.

Pathways to the Profession highlights Penn Carey Law students and post-graduate fellows as they launch impactful legal careers. From summer internships in the private sector to public interest post-graduate fellowships, these firsthand accounts of substantive legal work demonstrate the myriad opportunities available to Penn Carey Law students and graduates as they hone their skills and advance their career goals.

Raised in the Bay Area of California, Camilla Samuelsson L’25 strives to pursue a career in civil rights and criminal defense law to advance immigrant, juvenile, racial, and environmental justice.

Learn more about our students’ Pathways to the Profession.