The University of Wisconsin is stepping into a new service area, with the launching this semester of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the UW Law School.
The clinic, started by law student Kathryn Finley and the Latino Law Student Association, will provide free representation to people fighting deportation, clinic director and assistant professor Stacy Taeuber told me.
The students will focus on undocumented immigrants being held in detention for federal immigration authorities at the Dodge County Jail, which is where people taken into custody in the Madison area typically are sent.
The program aims to meet a gaping need. “There are currently no free or low-cost services in Wisconsin for individuals facing deportation,” Taeuber said in an email. Even though only six students will be working under her direction, she called the services they will provide “a huge improvement.”
Currently, in the region, only the National Immigrant Justice Center, based in Chicago, provides some representation to a very small number of detained individuals, she said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported Wednesday that it deported a record number of foreigners without documents in 2011 -- 396,906 -- most of whom had been convicted of crimes, the Miami Herald reports.
The Obama administration has said it is focusing on criminals in its deportation practices, but some immigrant rights activists dispute that. My unscientific review of the criminal records of inmates being held in the Dane County Jail in 2009 -- when 149 were released to ICE for transfer to detention in Dodge County -- found that drunken driving charges, at least the second occurrence and often the third or fourth, were by far the most common reason for arrest.
Immigration attorneys have told me in the past that undocumented immigrants charged with crimes often are advised to plead guilty by lawyers who don't practice immigration law, thereby making their clients vulnerable to deportation.
To educate detainees about the immigration court system, students in the Immigrant Justice Clinic will also conduct "Know Your Rights" presentations at the Dodge detention facility in Juneau.
The clinic program is being funded by an Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment grant.