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.”
AI 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, pictured below, with the attorney she worked under, 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 AI Justice internship out of curiosity for the field and interest in putting her fluency in Spanish to use.
Her experience with AI Justice, she said, shaped her career goals, though – and her class schedule. She will take the Immigration Law course this fall.
“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.”
Over the course of his three years at Moritz, Nickolas Davidson ’13 volunteered more than 230 hours of his time to helping low-income Columbus citizens file their taxes.
For five years, Davidson has volunteered for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. The program offers free income tax preparation help to students as well as low-income Columbus citizens. In 2013, VITA filed more than 290 returns, garnering a total refund amount of more than $583,000 for Columbus taxpayers
“The individuals the program helped varied from college students to retired elderly couples living on a fixed retirement income,” Davidson said. “They often had one or more children or dependents and received the Earned Income Tax Credit as part of their returns, which many individuals said would go toward fulfilling basic needs for the rest of the year. The stories that I heard from these individuals will stay with me for years.”
Davidson’s time with the program began early — when he was an undergraduate student at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State. His role grew from three years as a volunteer to becoming treasurer as a 2L and then president of the organization in 2013, during his final year at Moritz.
To become involved with the program, volunteers learned about the tax code and passed a certification test. Davidson said his day-to-day work involved conducting client interviews and preparing tax returns.
“Throughout my time with the program, I have gained an amazing working knowledge of the tax code,” Davidson said. “The problems faced by each taxpayer were unlike any other and would have to be solved in a short amount of time. Sometimes this was easy. Other times it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Beyond that knowledge, Davidson said he picked up some skills that had little to do with taxes.
“The most important thing that I have learned throughout my years with VITA has been the interpersonal skills obtained from working with other volunteers and the multitude of clients that I have served,” he said. “I believe the ability to listen closely, communicate effectively, and problem-solve rapidly will serve me greatly as I continue on in the legal profession.”
After completing the bar, Davidson will be working as an associate for Critchfield, Critchfield and Johnston in Wooster, Ohio. He hopes to continue volunteering with the VITA program.
Thousands of Ohio veterans and military service members need legal services each year. They return home from tours of duty only to face seemingly insurmountable challenges – foreclosures, mushrooming problems with debt, issues with litigious landlords, and more.
With inadequate resources to hire attorneys themselves and limited aid available through public interest law programs, those working closely with the veteran and military communities say a great need is going unmet.
One student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law hopes to change that.
Jenna C. Grassbaugh is a law student, a veteran, and a Gold Star wife whose amazing story of service and generosity is inspiring others across the country to donate to an initiative personal to her on many levels: the Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh Veterans Project.
The project, which begins operations in autumn 2013, will pair veterans with law students who can assist in sorting through landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosures, Rule 60 default judgment, and debt crises. Practicing attorneys will volunteer their time to supervise the students’ work.
Grassbaugh, a member of the Class of 2014, donated $250,000 in seed money to start the project, using insurance funds she received following the death of her husband, Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Zaganiyah, Iraq on April 7, 2007.
She hopes others will match her gift, so 2,000 hours of free legal services can be provided annually.
“I wanted to find a project that would have some sort of long-lasting legacy – something that Jon would truly approve of and worthy of that money,” Grassbaugh said. “It didn’t seem right to buy something with it. I wanted to do something worthwhile.”
Grassbaugh was a 1L at The College of William & Mary when her husband was killed in action. They had married only 10 months before. After his funeral, Grassbaugh decided to withdraw from law school and become a military police officer. “Foolhardy or not, I wanted to do my part in contributing to the war effort overseas, and I wanted to see for myself the place that my husband had spent his final days alive,” she wrote in her admissions essay. She deployed to Mahmudiyah, Iraq in September 2008, where she was a platoon leader in charge of 40 soldiers.
“Being a veteran myself, I wanted to be more involved in helping other vets,” she said. “This project will serve a continuing need.”