Briefing Room
Cristina Nieves feature

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3L has impact in immigration cases

October 8, 2013 | Students

A handmade poster, embellished with glitter-crafted flowers and a note in Spanish, hung on one of office walls that surrounded Cristina Nieves this summer.

While the wall décor brightened up the room, it also served as a reminder of the dark road taken by the woman who fashioned the thank-you gift for the 3L and her boss.

The woman, a detained immigrant fleeing from an abusive ex-partner in El Salvador, was seeking asylum. As a law clerk for Americans for Immigrant Justice, Nieves played an integral role in helping the woman gain humanitarian parole.

En route to the U.S., the woman was raped twice and then immediately picked up by border patrol once she reached Texas, where bits of her family resided. Due to overcrowding in Texas detention centers, she was taken to the Broward Transitional Center, a low-risk detention center in Miami.  States separated her from relatives, and she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was in Miami that Nieves helped the woman gain humanitarian parole, which allowed the asylum case to be held in Texas and led to the woman eventually being reunited with her family there.

“It was gratifying to be able to have her released,”Nieves said. “It was so great because I was in communication with her sister-in-law the whole time.”

Americans for Immigrant Justice is a nonprofit law firm that helps immigrants obtain legal status within the U.S. through five programs. In her 10-week internship with the firm, Nieves worked exclusively with the LUCHA/NOU KAB Program, which assists women who are typically victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking.

Once a week, Nieves would visit the Broward Transitional Center with the attorney she worked with, Jessica Shulruff. They would meet with female detainees looking for legal advice and would take on cases.

“It was really great to participate in the actual hands-on work with the cases instead of just sitting at a desk writing a motion,” Nieves said of visiting the center. “I really like the interaction with the clients.”

Comparing the internship to her work as a law clerk for the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office, Nieves said she learned through her internship that no cases are the same in immigration law. “There are so many intricacies in each case that are relevant and you have to incorporate them all in each case.”

Given that Nieves had never taken an immigration law class at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, she applied for the Americans for Immigrant Justice internship out of curiosity for the field and interest in putting her fluency in Spanish to use.

Her experience last summer, she said, shaped her career goals, though – and her class schedule. She is taking the Immigration Law course this semester.

“I didn’t have much of a grasp on the entire system, but it was pretty shocking to see these women who essentially haven’t committed any crimes be detained in these detention centers,” Nieves said. “This exposure has definitely shifted my perception and I can definitely see myself pursuing a career in immigration law.”