The walls of Boyd Law School’s Immigration Clinic’s new off-campus community advocacy office are decorated with dozens of painted hand prints from children the clinic’s lawyers and students have helped.
“When I got to walk through the offices, and I saw those hand prints on canvas, it really made it real,” Gov. Steve Sisolak told reporters Thursday after an opening ceremony for the clinic’s office in downtown Las Vegas.
The clinic at 1212 S. Casino Center Blvd. will provide free legal services to UNLV students and employees, and defend adults in detention and unaccompanied children facing deportation. Five people will work out of the downtown office, including at least one UNLV law student, said Alissa Cooley, the lead attorney for the community advocacy office.
The clinic, which has operated since 2014, will also keep its location open at Boyd Law School. The Nevada Legislature and the Clark County Commission approved a total of $1 million to fund the downtown office, and the space was donated by prominent defense attorney Ozzie Fumo, the clinic’s director, Michael Kagan, told those who attended Thursday’s event.
“Our students come from this community, and that is a big reason why we do this work at UNLV,” Kagan said. “There’s some specific reasons why this work is so essential. It is very well known for everybody who works in the field of immigration law, for people who are facing deportation, that having a lawyer is essential to having any semblance of a fair process.”
Sisolak told the crowd on Thursday that the immigration clinic was needed to help Nevada’s immigrants, who make up 20 percent of the state’s residents.
“Nevada has an ongoing commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees to our state,” he said. “We embrace those that flee persecution and prosecution and fear for their family’s lives and their safety.”
Cooley told attendees that she and her partner have been collecting the hand prints of children the immigration clinic has represented. Exactly 100 colorful hand prints pressed into canvases now hang at the clinic’s UNLV and downtown Las Vegas locations.
“On hard days, looking up from our desks at the array of colorful hands on our wall, reminded us of why we do the work that we do and what is at stake for many of the people in our community,” Cooley said, her voice thick with emotion.
Among those who spoke on Thursday was Elizabeth Velasquez, who addressed the crowd in Spanish while a woman interpreted for her. Velasquez said she moved to Las Vegas in 2018, fleeing gang violence in Guatemala. When officials separated Velasquez from her three children, the clinic’s lawyers helped reunite the family, she said.
“I feel that the work that they do, they do out of their heart,” Velasquez said of the clinic’s lawyers, speaking through the interpreter.