Immigration Star Student Reflection: Deborah Choi (Berkeley Law c/o 2020)

June 2, 2020


Congratulations, Class of 2020! Even as we graduate physically apart from one another, we walk into the new unknown together. I feel comforted by you all, knowing that there are advocates like the amazing people that I got to know and work with in the Immigration Clinic.

I spent most of my time in Clinic working on a deportation case involving a client who was incarcerated in immigration prison. A couple weeks ago (and six months after passing on this case to another attorney for representation on appeal), I learned that this client had been deported. This was/is very difficult to process. Throughout my time in Clinic, this case had been very challenging. I constantly felt inadequate. I had never managed my own case before. I was unsure of whether I was doing anything right. I felt undeserving of the trust that my client had given so generously. Despite affirmations otherwise, I felt uneasy as my client’s advocate and uncomfortable with what seemed to be life-or-death at stake. At one point, I think I thought, perhaps naively, that maybe preparing these remarks would give me some closure on this case.

But, in fact, this case has taught me that there’s no such thing as a closing memo (which marks the official end of a case) for your client. Your clients and their stories carry on with you. They guide us and shed light on all that is wrong with the systems we currently operate in, and shed light on the work to be done and the deconstruction that is necessary.

Thinking back on the times that I felt most inadequate as an advocate — like when we had to leave the immigration prison after spending the day prepping our client for testimony and cross-examination, when our client’s final hearing was over, or when we received the immigration judge’s denial, I can see now that those were the times when there was nothing more for us to do as lawyers.

As lawyers, we do our jobs so that one day we will not have to. Despite the hard work of many remarkable advocates, the immigration judge’s decision felt arbitrary, inhumane, unfair, and unjust. The untenability of the system that I felt then feels even truer now — for not only this case, but for the system at large, in light of COVID-19’s discriminating impact on our communities. Our clients build and help us imagine a new world, one free of these oppressive and dehumanizing systems and one centered in the humanity of each individual. Until that day, your work is so crucial. As during my time in Clinic, I continue to be amazed at the resilience and tenacity of advocates fighting the good fight. You all inspire me to be a better advocate. Thank you for all that you are and for the community and love you shared with me at Clinic. Congratulations again, Class of 2020 graduates! I can’t wait to join you and support you in this community.