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Human Rights Fellow Works with Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

Last summer Graham received Heins/Mills Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship, funded in large part by the Robina Foundation.  The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) provides free legal assistance to low-income immigrants who live in Minnesota. ILCM works on immigration cases only, but has its hands quite full, as there is a large demand for its services. The case loads of the attorneys who work at ILCM are often full.

Graham Ojala-Barbour, a second-year law student at the University of Minnesota, has long been interested in the problems faced by people immigrating to this country, and has lately become even more interested in immigration law. He recalls more than five years ago sitting with his friend Allen at the restaurant where they both worked, and hearing Allen’s story of crossing the desert to get from Mexico into Arizona. “People died along the way,” Allen told him. “You would see things other people had left behind.” Allen also told Graham that his friends and family needed help, especially from lawyers, because Allen felt that his community had no rights in this country. “For example,” Allen said, “if I get into a car accident, even if the other person hits my car, because I have no insurance and no lawyer, the accident is my fault.” This conversation sparked Graham’s interest in helping the undocumented population here in the United States to live in more decent conditions. In the summer of 2009 he received an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship that enabled him to work at ILCM.

At ILCM, Graham worked with clients who had been victims of crime here in the United States. His primary task was to determine if clients were eligible for the U visa, a non-immigrant visa that allows three years of legal status to immigrant victims of crime who are here in the U.S. without permission. In order to be eligible for the U visa, the immigrant must prove that they were cooperative with police in arresting and prosecuting the criminals that perpetrated the crime against them.

ILCM’s clients come from all over the world. Because Graham speaks Spanish, he was better prepared to assist the U visa clients, most of whom are Hispanic. His most intense moments at ILCM happened when he was listening to clients tell their stories. Most of the clients were victims of domestic assault, and Graham was exposed for the first time to working with people who had suffered a lot of physical abuse. Further, he was struck by the fear in which many immigrants are constantly living.

Graham is still volunteering at ILCM, and is about to take an asylum case. He is grateful for the opportunity afforded him by the Fellowship and for the guidance he has received from the staff attorneys at the Immigrant Law Center.



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