Helping Haiti in the Wake of Disaster: Law Students as First Responders
49 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2011 Last revised: 27 Apr 2011
Date Written: February 1, 2011
On January 12, 2010, a devastating and catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. A week after the earthquake, and only a day after the United States designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible Haitians living in the U.S., University of Miami law students, faculty and other volunteers became legal “first responders,” assisting those in need. As Miamians, we all recognized that the tragic events of January 12 had affected not only those Haitians in Port au Prince, but the entire Haitian country and diaspora. Haitians here in the United States were anxious to help financially but many lacked work authorization. In a country where remittances were already equal to 30% of the pre-earthquake gross domestic product, a program that would deliver employment authorization documents to previously undocumented Haitians held tremendous promise as a means of infusing cash where it was most needed - directly to family and loved ones back in Haiti.
Our law school clinic does a significant amount of immigration status adjustment work and has experience applying for fee waivers from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is the story of how we put an immediate-need and longer-term TPS service effort together, the lessons we learned in doing so, and what we believe to be a sustainable clinical pedagogy and law school service model built around disaster assistance and recovery.
We begin by examining how lawyers and law students have traditionally made valuable contributions to disaster response by using their legal training. All too often, those efforts have been hampered by the ad hoc nature in which they have been constructed post-disaster, and by the limitations inherent in the relatively small number of lawyers available to offer significant amounts of time to the overwhelming number of disaster-affected individuals. Recognizing this, many volunteer agencies and legal services providers have sought to improve the response time, quality, and quantity of post-disaster legal assistance by preparing materials and training volunteer lawyers in advance. Our proposal incorporates and builds on these improvements by arguing that law students and law clinics are a veritable “army” of untapped potential legal resources that could be configured to provide quick legal responses to emergencies and disasters, targeted to enforce disaster victims’ basic needs. We encourage the legal community that is already working on emergency and disaster preparedness, relief and recovery to include law school clinics and students in their present efforts; and we encourage law school clinical instructors and pro bono programs to give serious consideration to incorporating legal first response into their pedagogical and service programs.
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