The PA Immigration Resource Center has honored the Transnational Legal Clinic with its annual Light of Liberty Award. Pictured: Tamara Shehadeh-Cope (PIRC) with Sarah Paoletti and Liz Bradley.
Local immigration non-profit Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) has honored the Transnational Legal Clinic (TLC) with its annual Light of Liberty Award. At the ceremony, which took place on September 21, 2022, PIRC named the TLC as Law Firm/Organization of the Year.
Located in York, Pennsylvania, PIRC’s mission is to “provide high quality legal services so that vulnerable immigrants and their families in Pennsylvania have access to justice and a more secure future.” The organization aims to create a world in which all “vulnerable immigrants and their families have a voice, dignity, and hope in communities across Pennsylvania.”
Educating Immigration Law Advocates
The TLC, which advocates for and defends immigrants, is one of nine Gittis Legal Clinics at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School wherein students gain hands-on experience representing clients with complex real-world legal problems. In 2022-23, Sarah Paoletti, Practice Professor of Law and Director and Founder of the TLC, is co-teaching the Clinic alongside Visiting Practice Assistant Professor of Law Liz Bradley.
“We are humbled to receive the Light of Liberty Award recognizing the work of the TLC in providing client-centered representation to individuals confronting exceptionally complex and sometimes cruel legal and administrative systems.” Paoletti said. “It is an incredible privilege to work alongside our clients who exhibit extraordinary strength, character, and resilience as they entrust us with their stories.”
In the TLC, students engage in direct client-services work by advocating for individuals and families impacted by the immigration system, and confront a wide range of legal issues, while preparing clients for and representing them in asylum hearings and immigration court proceedings, guiding them through the complicated process of obtaining visas, and assisting them in securing benefits to which they are lawfully entitled.
In addition to working closely with immigrants and their families in and around Philadelphia, TLC students engage in a week of on-location work every semester. In past years, students have assisted migrants in navigating the immigration system at the Berks Family Detention Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania; at a detention center in rural Georgia; and at the U.S.-Mexico border. This year, students are returning to the Berks Detention Center — now being used for the detention of women apprehended at the border — and providing legal assistance to those women seeking asylum. This difficult, fast-paced work challenges students to think quickly and empathize deeply, while immersing themselves in all aspects of the complex system of immigration law and practice. In the detention centers, the stakes are profoundly high for clients and their families and access to legal services is scant.
TLC students also work to challenge systemic barriers confronted by clients through advocacy before international and regional human rights bodies and the filing of amicus briefs, often on behalf of renowned international human rights and refugee law experts.
In giving the award, PIRC highlighted this combination of individual client services and systemic human rights advocacy, recognizing the 400+ hours of representation provided to a detained client referred by PIRC as well as an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that argued that the U.S., under the UN Refugee Convention, should not return a PIRC client to a country where the person would face harm.
Award-Winning Clinical Education
In addition to the Light of Liberty Award, other Gittis Legal Clinics have also been recognized for their exceptional work in the community. Last year, work completed by students in the Civil Practice Clinic and the Toll Public Interest Center’s Penn Housing Rights Project contributed to the Law School being a finalist for Philadelphia VIP’s Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Award for Corporations.