MSU Helping Immigrants Navigate the Legal System

Louise Knott Ahern, Lansing State Journal, October 4, 2010

Diana Konate doesn’t remember much about the year she turned 9, when she and her family left their home in the West African country of Ivory Coast and immigrated to the United States.

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That experience is on her mind these days as one of nine law students who are part of a new pro bono legal clinic for immigrants through the Michigan State University College of Law.

The program started in September and already has 30 clients, with cases ranging from deportation disputes to domestic violence complaints.

Students meet with clients twice a week and help them with everything from paperwork to court hearings.

“{snip} For the most part, our clients are unaware of their rights.”

Those rights are the subject of their own debate these days, adding a higher profile to a clinic that is among several others offered through MSU’s law school.

A recent poll by EPIC/MRA found that two-thirds of Michigan voters think the state should adopt a law similar to the one passed earlier this year in Arizona.

Nationwide debate

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The Thronsons fear the Michigan poll reflects a growing anti-immigrant sentiment that makes it harder for even those who are here legally to get a fair shake in the court system.

“We’ve made it very difficult in this country to achieve legal status,” David Thronson [creator of the clinic with his wife, fellow law professor Veronica Tobar Thronson] said.

The clinic takes clients on referral, mostly from social service agencies that are usually the first point of contact for an immigrant in need of legal services.

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Resettlement zone

Nearly 6 percent of Michigan’s population was born in another country.

The Lansing region in particular has a large concentration of immigrants, Thronson said.

The region is a major United Nations resettlement zone for refugees, and MSU itself attracts students and faculty from around the world.

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