J.D. Candidate 2015, UCI Law
Buzz about UC Irvine’s law school started during my freshman year of college, but according to all upperclassmen, this was a long-running rumor that would never come to fruition. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that UCI Law’s Inaugural Class walked through the halls of the Law and Education buildings.
Before the institution came into being, the only connection Anteaters had to any law school was through the Law School Fair held at the end of every October. Here, several undergraduates would swarm Ring Road seeking pamphlets, application fee waivers, and LSAT discounts. I was not one of them. The idea of going to law school at that time was simply an idea, another possibility of what I could do after I graduated. For most of my undergraduate career, I constantly debated with myself over whether to pursue a Ph.D. in International Relations or a J.D.
I remember walking through Ring Road during the Law School Fair in 2009 and passing by UC Irvine’s booth. Unlike all the other booths where there was just one representative who would answer the same questions about LSAT scores, GPAs, and personal statements, UCI’s booth featured members of the Inaugural Class answering questions about their 1L year and what it was like to be at a new school. I don’t know what compelled me to stop, but UCI’s booth was swarming with people and appeared to be the most popular. The students I encountered certainly looked like typical 1Ls: exhausted, but still enthusiastic about being able to build a new law school, innovate projects, and do something different. Throughout the rest of my undergraduate career, news about UCI Law always seemed to follow me. I would overhear a conversation about the law school at Phoenix Grill while standing in line for a quesadilla, or I would run into a law student at the Parking Office while paying for a ticket.
What I remember most though is reading an article that ran on the University’s homepage entitled “Safe Haven: UCI law students help Iraqi refugees trapped in a legal limbo.” The article was about three 2Ls, Susan Lewis, Sam Lam, and Lauren Gruber, and their involvement in the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). In the article, the students shared their experiences traveling to Jordan, working on cases, and meeting refugees. After reading the article, I remember thinking to myself, “Whatever I decide to do, I want to do something like this.”
When I began my journey at UCI Law just a few short months ago, IRAP was the first student organization I wanted to join. IRAP pairs law students and attorneys with refugees seeking resettlement in the United States. The organization espouses the values of public interest and hands on experience that our law school encourages. According to United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, about 2 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. Approximately one million have fled to Syria; however, since the outbreak of violence between government forces and rebel groups, several thousand have fled to other Arab countries. In Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as other countries, many refugees are not allowed to work and do not have any form of legal status. According to the New York Times, among the western countries, Sweden has granted the most asylum/refugee cases with about 9,000 total Iraqis in 2006. In February 2007, the U.S. State Department pledged to take an addition 7,000 refugees, but has experienced several delays in administering the process, a problem that IRAP seeks to bridge by providing legal representation for Iraqis seeking resettlement.
Though I have yet to start a case, I did participate in the case training held at USC Law School by the founder and director of IRAP, Becca Heller. After the training, several 1Ls and I realized that this project is not like any other that we have previously engaged in, because what we do actually impacts a real person who is desperately hoping to come to the United States for a better life. It occurred to me that for the first time everything I had learned about the Iraq War, the refugee crisis, and the Arab Spring would be beyond the statistics, beyond the articles, and beyond the books. IRAP reminds me of why I decided to go to law school: to help people, as simple as that. But, it also gives me the opportunity to understand the issues I have always been interested in from a new perspective that is real and personal.