By: Halee Snellgrove Maturin
Immigration has quickly become a trending topic in the past years, working its way into almost every presidential debate and discussion. Louisiana itself feels the effects of immigration into the United States, with almost 4% of the state’s population being foreign-born, according to a recent study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. In an effort to better prepare its future lawyers for immigration issues across the country, Paul M. Hebert Law Center offers courses in Immigration Law, as well as offering clinical components to give students hands-on experience with cases concerning immigration reform. The law center is excited to welcome Professor Lauren Aronson to its faculty, as the new director of the Immigration Law Clinic.
Aronson received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Psychology from Rice University, and later earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia. While earning her law degree, Aronson was able to work with post-conviction relief in conjunction with the Virginia Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that uses our more modern technologies such as DNA testing to exonerate individuals wrongly convicted of crimes. Upon graduation from law school, Aronson moved to New York to work in tax law.
Her job in New York provided her with the chance to move to Spain for almost a year, which was where her interest in immigration law was sparked. In the process of obtaining her travel visa, Aronson learned firsthand just how difficult it is to be in a foreign-speaking country and having to deal with the foreign government agencies. This experience put immigration into perspective for her. She could only imagine how much harder it must be to attempt to legally enter a country like the United States permanently, where the consequences of having your visa denied could be extremely detrimental.
Upon her return to the United States, Aronson actively began searching for job opportunities in immigration law. She received a fellowship in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Harvard Law School and worked there as an Immigrant and Refugee advocate. Her role in this position was to support other supervising attorneys on cases that were happening out of sync with the semester, while also providing interpretation for Spanish-speaking clients. The cases Aronson worked on at Harvard were almost exclusively concerning gender-based asylum, meaning the client was an immigrant from another country and was afraid to return home due to gender-based persecution.
After working at Harvard for a year, Aronson moved to Chicago to work for the National Immigrant Justice Center. While in Chicago, her work took place mostly in detention centers for unaccompanied immigrant children. Aronson would give the children presentations on their rights here in America and would try to determine if any of the children had eligibility for legal immigration relief. Those children that were eligible were then represented by Aronson and her colleagues in their claims for relief. Like her work at Harvard, many of the cases she worked on in Chicago dealt with asylum as well.
Following her job in Chicago, Aronson received a teaching fellowship at Michigan State University School of Law, where she co-taught the Immigration Law Clinic and supervised the students in their casework. While at Michigan State, Aronson also had the opportunity to teach her own refugee and asylum seminar. After two years of working in Michigan, Aronson became employed at Paul M. Hebert Law Center as both director and professor of the Immigration Law Clinic.
The Immigration Law Clinic here at LSU operates as a small legal aid clinic, in the sense that the school directly offers legal services to indigent people, specifically non-native-born individuals. The students who participate in this clinic are able to do actual casework, make arguments in immigration court, and represent their clients before several governmental agencies, all while directly interacting with these clients. The Immigration Law Clinic is available to all second and third year students, with no prerequisites.
In the past years, the Immigration Law Clinic at LSU has worked frequently with detained immigrant individuals. One of Aronson’s objectives for this year is to see the clinic evolve and more directly address the immediate needs of the Baton Rouge community and its members, rather than being so heavily focused on those detained individuals who are more distant from the community.
One of Aronson’s goals in her position as director is to see the clinic become a resource for the Baton Rouge community as a whole and develop a strong positive reputation within that community, while also giving students the opportunity to work within detention centers and counsel the detainees on their legal rights. The needs of any community are constantly changing, so Aronson wants to create a work environment that can adapt to those changing needs and be flexible in what the clinic is able to offer clients.
In discussing her educational career in immigration law, Aronson stated that it is extremely rewarding being able to make a difference, but also getting to do so in the context of hopefully training other lawyers to do the same. She stated, “it is the pinnacle of the ‘pay it forward’ idea – you are doing meaningful work and changing lives while also making it possible for others to continue that work into the future.”