3L Nicolas Wilde Discusses Externship Opportunities in Immigration Law: ‘Helping someone gain citizenship is a very satisfying feeling’

Nicolas-Wilde-20131002-3It would be accurate to say that 3L Nicolas Wilde is passionate about immigration law. In the interview below, the student director of the College of Law’s Pro Bono Immigration Clinic explains how he came to appreciate the benefits of U.S. citizenship, stresses the importance of regularly communicating with clients, and praises the College of Law’s Lawyering Skills class, which he said gave him the interviewing and counseling skills necessary to work in an emotionally fraught atmosphere.

 We understand you were involved in a placement over the summer working on immigration cases at the Holy Cross Ministry.  Tell us about your responsibilities and what you learned there.

I interned at Holy Cross Ministries through the law school’s civil clinic program. I was very lucky to have two great supervising attorneys in Heath Becker and Janice Olson. Heath and Janice provided me with a number of different visa applications to help prepare. I primarily worked on U-Visa, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, and Provisional Waiver applications. Heath and Janice also gave me a number of novel immigration issues to research. Towards the end of my internship, Heath gave me my own U-Visa client. Due to long processing times, I was unable to see this client’s case through to the end, but I have high hopes that her application will be approved.

One thing I learned during my internship was the importance of keeping clients up to date on the status of their case. Holy Cross taught me to make an effort to call my clients regularly. Even when clients had changed addresses and switched phone numbers, it seemed like the staff at Holy Cross made an effort to track the clients down. When I become an attorney I hope to make the same effort in keeping my clients informed on the status of their case.

How did you first become interested in immigration law?

I came to law school with a desire to practice immigration law. I think my interest in immigration law stems in large part from my background and my upbringing. My mom moved to Chicago from Mexico when she was four years old. I grew up on the border of Mexico and Texas. I appreciate the benefits of U.S. citizenship. I understand why it is so highly sought after by so many.

I came to law school wanting to help others acquire those benefits. This past summer I had the opportunity to do just that. Helping someone gain citizenship is a very satisfying feeling. My internship at Holy Cross has been one of the highlights of law school because it gave me the ability to help families with stories like my own.

Due to your efforts and persistence, a citizenship application that had been erroneously denied was reviewed and overturned.  Tell us more about that case.

A client came into Holy Cross because she had her application for naturalization denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Immigration denied her application for failing the physical presence requirement. Generally, in order for a legal permanent resident to naturalize, she must be physically present in the United States for at least one half of the five years prior to filing for citizenship. When a legal permanent is married to a U.S. citizen spouse, however, she must only have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one half of the three years prior to filing.

I reviewed the client’s file and discovered she had been married to a U.S. citizen spouse for three years prior to filing. I then calculated her time spent outside the U.S. for the three years prior to filing and discovered it was less than ½ of three years. I informed my supervising attorney of Immigration’s mistake. My supervising attorney then presented my work to immigration and they reversed their denial of the client’s citizenship application. It was a very satisfying feeling to know I helped a client gain her citizenship.

Your supervisors said that you worked on several cases to obtain legal status in the U.S. for the victims of serious crimes.  Describe those cases and how you were able to use your training and education from the College of Law to benefit these clients.

Those cases involved terrible human suffering. Speaking to a client face to face and having them describe some of the worst moments of their lives isn’t easy for them. I worked with some clients who were willing to relive those moments because they were eligible to attain legal status and a work permit in the United States in exchange for cooperating with law enforcement.

The class that helped best prepare me for interactions with those clients was Lawyering Skills. In that class I was able to practice my interviewing and counseling skills and have those skills evaluated by the clinic director, Linda Smith.

I also had a number of interactions with police departments and DA’s offices. I believe I was better able to effectively communicate with those offices and acquire important information for my clients from those offices as a result of the overall education I have received from the College of Law. Dealing with those offices can be intimidating to the uninitiated. I know my education provided me with the necessary confidence to effectively serve as an advocate for my clients’ interests.

What did you find most surprising (or unexpected) about the experience?

I really was surprised to see just how many clients Holy Cross Ministries serves. I knew they had a great reputation before interning there, but the sheer volume of work they do, coupled with the high level of expertise among their staff is simply amazing. They truly are the unsung heroes of the immigrant community.

What other clinical or pro bono activities have you participated in as a student?  How did the experiences compare to this one?  

I am the student director of the Pro Bono Immigration Clinic. The knowledge I acquired at Holy Cross has helped me be a better student director for the Pro-Bono program. Both experiences have been very satisfying. The Pro Bono Immigration Clinic is a good starting point for individuals looking for brief legal advice. Oftentimes a few basic pieces of knowledge can go a long way, and I have seen our volunteers put a lot of people in the right direction since I became student director.

I’d like to thank our attorney volunteers for their time. Jonny Benson and Francisco Roman specifically are two of the attorneys who consistently volunteer their expertise.

Any remaining thoughts? 

I would like to encourage any of our law students interested in immigration law to intern at Holy Cross Ministries. It is a lot of work, but the experience is rewarding both because of the acquirable legal knowledge and the ability to serve.