A mother and daughter have been granted asylum in the U.S. after fleeing gender violence in Latin America, thanks in part to Notre Dame Law School students Jacquelyn Aguirre and Elizabeth Wentross.
Aguirre and Wentross, both second-year law students, are participants in this semester’s National Immigrant Justice Center externship. Through the externship, students are given real-world opportunities to practice their legal skills while changing the lives of their clients.
Through the NIJC externship, Aguirre and Wentross prepared their clients’ cases through extensive client interviewing, identification and collection of evidence, and legal research and writing. They devised a legal strategy and engaged in lengthy trial preparation in order to execute their strategy at court.
In early November, Aguirre and Wentross successfully represented their clients at their asylum trial before the Chicago Immigration Court.
“In preparing this case, they demonstrated tenacity, dedication, compassion, and tolerance of ambiguity,” said Lisa Koop, adjunct professor of law and associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “The judge expressed gratitude for their excellent case preparation, which made the issues and strengths of the case clear to the court. After the judge rendered his verdict and the government attorney waived appeal, Jacquelyn and Elizabeth celebrated with their emotionally and physically exhausted — but elated — clients.”
The day after the hearing, their client sent this message to her legal team: “Thank you to my wonderful advocates from the bottom of my heart. I have no words to repay you for all you have done for me and my daughter. I ask God in heaven to give you a healthy life and to bless you.”
Aguirre said the externship experience was a wonderful way to apply the skills she had learned in the classroom.
“Legal education can seem abstract, especially after the general first-year courses, but this was an amazing opportunity to see the concrete results of my time in law school on the lives of real people,” Aguirre said. “NIJC does absolutely incredible work and it was such an honor to be a part of it. I'm so happy for our clients.”
Wentross said she was grateful for the trust from their clients and the NIJC to handle the case.
“I am so grateful to the NIJC for this experience and to our brave clients for entrusting us with their story,” Wentross said. “Having the opportunity to ground my legal education in real-life experience allowed me to further develop the skills I need to be a more effective and compassionate advocate. It was an honor and a privilege to represent our clients, and I am thrilled that they were granted asylum.”
In the past year, Notre Dame Law School students have won three asylum cases through the NIJC externship. In September, third-year law student Sophia Aguilar helped a mother and child from El Salvador win asylum. In November 2020, current third-year students Melvin Hydleburg and Zahraa Nasser helped a young woman from Central America win asylum.