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Fronteras Extra: Visas For Crime Victims & Law Students Gain Courtroom Experience

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St. Mary's University
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The courtroom at St. Mary's University

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Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
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Erica Schommer, clinical assistant professor of law, St. Mary's University School of Law

Erica Schommer is an immigration lawyer and clinical assistant professor at St. Mary’s School of Law. She has practiced law with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and has worked on various human rights issues in Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

Schommer says immigrants who are victims of crime often have a better chance of achieving legal status in the U.S. The Violence Against Women Act, for example, allows abused women to petition for legalization.  

Normally, a family relation would submit the petition, but because family members are often the abusers, victims can bypass the process, she said.

“The U-visa and the T-visa (are) a little more broad. A U-visa is for a person who has been a victim of a certain kind of crime, mostly violent crimes, and who has cooperated or is cooperating with the authorities in an investigation or prosecution,” she said. “T-visas are for people who have been victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons.”

Schommer’s students at St. Mary’s take on the role of attorneys in the immigration clinic. She said students working under the supervision of a licensed attorney can appear in court.

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Schommer talks about the courtroom experience her students in the immigration clinic receive at St. Mary's.

“The cases we handle are for people who are low income and unable to pay a lawyer,” she said. “My students are the primary attorneys (who) work with the clients, from interviewing them, doing their asylum applications and representing them in court. I’m with them every step of the way. ...

“They’re the ones in control of the case, they’re the ones working with the clients about strategy and how to pursue the case. It really allows them the ability to experience what it’s like to be an attorney.”

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1