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1L Immigration Clinic Helps Secure Parole for Rare Language Speaker
two students and a faculty member talking in an office
From left: Mimi Goldberg '24, Sofía Cuevas Dorador '26, and Clinical Professor of Law Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer.

After several weeks of advocacy by students and faculty in the 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic, a client has been released on parole from the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana—a detention facility for immigrants under the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is the first such win for the clinic.

Clinic students Mimi Goldberg ’24 and Sofia Cuevas Dorador ’26 first met Client “S” in February 2024 after he was referred to the clinic by a partner legal agency, the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. S arrived in the United States in August 2023 from his home in West Africa after persecution due to his status as a gay, HIV-positive person. He was detained in the Winn facility and had his preliminary asylum hearing while in custody. This initial hearing was delayed several times, due to the lack of a translator of Wolof, S’s home language.

Goldberg and Cuevas Dorador argued that S was eligible for parole because of the high likelihood of a successful asylum claim and because of urgent humanitarian reasons: S suffers from medical conditions requiring constant care, and the extensive delays in finding an interpreter for the preliminary hearing lead to a decline in S’s health. Further, the students explained why S’s continued detention was not in the public interest and why he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community. Given his vulnerable situation, the students argued that, on balance, S should be released within ICE’s discretion under section 212(d)(5)(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The clinic filed this parole request in March 2024.

“The law students worked diligently and creatively to build a connection with S and research arguments to support his release,” says Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, clinical professor of law. “Mimi, an advanced student, and Sofia, a first-year student, had the rare opportunity to collaborate across class years. This unique combination of skills, energy, and different perspectives helped make this case successful.”

Cuevas Dorador adds, “I really appreciated the opportunity to jump into casework so early on in my law school career.”

Adjunct Clinical Professor of Law Alisa Whitfield was also an integral part of the case, contributing her extensive practice experience representing detained immigrants. The team learned via email that their client had been released and was able to have a video call with S and his sponsor.

“I am incredibly grateful for S’s willingness to trust us with his case and share vulnerable details about his life, without which none of this would have been possible,” says Goldberg. “Having seen firsthand the conditions of immigrant detention centers, it fills me with indescribable joy to finally see someone released through our efforts.”

The clinic thanks the Cornell Migrations Initiative and the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs for their generous support of this work.

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