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Judge Einhorn Inaugurates the Pepperdine Asylum Clinic

Judge Bruce Einhorn, who served as a Federal Immigration Judge for 17 years before retiring in 2007, has signed on to direct the Pepperdine University School of Law Asylum Clinic, which will be offered on an experimental basis beginning this fall.
As a longtime adjunct professor at Pepperdine, Judge Einhorn has taught courses such as War Crimes and Human Rights, and has received the David McKibben Excellence in Teaching Award. He will teach Asylum and Refugee Law this fall.

Why is asylum especially relevant right now?

Sadly, the world remains a place of profound persecution. Converts from Islam to Christianity in Iran face imprisonment, torture, and even capital punishment. Christians in China who choose to worship at in-home church services rather than at state-sanctioned-and-supervised church settings are sometimes subject to imprisonment, physical abuse, and loss of employment. Women in Saudi Arabia face beatings and whippings for driving motor vehicles, dressing in Western-style clothing, and even being the victims of rape.

Ethnic and tribal minorities in Ethiopia and in the Sudan, especially Darfur, and religious minorities in Eritrea are often subject to state-sanctioned murder. Jews in the former Soviet Union continue to suffer from violent anti-Semitic acts condoned or unpunished by government authorities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments intended to protect religious, racial, ethnic, and political diversity are as breached as they are honored. As long as such outlaw behavior continues on a significant scale, the availability of asylum in democracies like our own country should remain a priority.

Why is it particularly important to Pepperdine?

At the core of Pepperdine's mission is the application of education, including legal education, to the service of others. The Golden Rule - that a person should do unto others as he or she would want them to do unto him or her - is at the core of everything we seek to teach students. Similarly, at the core of the law of asylum is the principle that those who receive the blessings of liberty should share that blessing with others who suffer or face persecution because of their non-violent acts of conscience. It is especially important to Pepperdine's mission to aid in the protection of those whose professions of religious faith put them in jeopardy of injury or death by religiously intolerant regimes abroad.

What is the goal of the clinic?

Study after study by law schools, universities, and think tanks clearly demonstrate that the better represented an asylum applicant is, the likelier his or her chances of obtaining asylum relief from either from the Department of Homeland Security or the United States Immigration Court are. Studies further show that the rate of asylum grants is especially high when asylum applicants are represented by law students who work under professorial supervision. The quality of the private immigration litigation bar is at best uneven, and the resources of the legal aid bar are way overstretched.

Accordingly, there is a golden opportunity for gifted and motivated Pepperdine law students to do justice on behalf of the religiously oppressed and other persecuted peoples whose unfamiliarity with the U.S. legal system, our language and culture make them vulnerable to inadequate representation in asylum proceedings.

How can students become part of the clinic?

Students who seek enrollment in the clinic will be culled from my larger lecture course in Asylum and Refugee Law. I anticipate selecting no more than six students in the clinic. Cases will be referred to the asylum clinic from a number of sources, including the law school's Union Rescue Mission Clinic and from various legal aid and religious organizations.

Working under my direction and the supervision of two fine immigration attorneys and Pepperdine graduates, Susan Hill ('93) and Emily Allen ('05), students in the asylum clinic will screen prospective clients, help prepare their cases, and then present them before Homeland Security's Asylum Office or the independent Immigration Court. I also expect to have free access to interpreters and, if needed, prospective expert witnesses, such as psycho-therapists and political scientists. Our ultimate client base will be limited, but each asylum applicant will receive significant representation and support for what is a grueling bureaucratic process.

Can you explain the time frame in which the clinic will roll out?

The clinic will hit the ground running this coming fall term. Potential clients are already being referred. As of now, I plan to offer a pre-semester weekend crash course on asylum and refugee law for students interested in the clinic. From those who participate in this overview session, and with the help of Susan and Emily, I'll select the students for the clinic. With God's help, a little inspiration, and a whole lot of perspiration, we'll get the job done.

How is asylum law different from refugee law?

Asylum law and refugee law are two sides of the same coin. Asylum and refugee relief applicant must prove that they possess a well-founded fear of persecution abroad on account of race, religion, nationality (i.e., ethnicity), membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Those who seek protection in order to be admitted to the United States do so as refugee relief applicants. Those who seek such protection after admission (e.g., as tourists or students with limited duration visas) or unlawful entry into the U.S. do so as asylum applicants.

Why did you decide to accept the role of director?

I served as an Immigration Judge and for a time as the presiding Immigration Judge for Los Angeles from 1990 through 2007. I heard and adjudicated tens of thousands of asylum cases, and was often grossly disappointed by the mediocre representation afforded asylum applicants. My disappointment was mitigated on occasion, however, by the extraordinary quality of representation afforded the few fortunate asylum applicants represented by pro bono advocates, especially law students from clinical programs at U.S.C. Law School and other Southern California learning institutions. When I retired from the federal bench in 2007, I was determined to help expand the availability of pro bono services in asylum cases. Since I had served as an adjunct professor of law and a member of the Board of Visitors at Pepperdine law school for 17 years, and since I saw a special need for legal assistance in religious asylum cases consistent with the Pepperdine mission, I jumped at the honor of directing the Pepperdine Clinic. I consider the Pepperdine campus a second home.

What personal experiences have you had that fueled your contributions to humanitarian causes?

First, I am a Jew, a member of the most persecuted religious and ethnic group in all of recorded history. As a Jewish American whose gratitude to my country for its tradition of religious tolerance is unbounded, I feel a moral obligation to fight for the same tolerance for other persecuted peoples, including moderate Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and Persian Gulf and other mistreated and threatened minorities.

Second, from 1979 through 1990, I served as a special prosecutor and then as Chief of Litigation for the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, the federal agency responsible for seeking the identification and prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals residing illegally in the U.S. For 11 years, I looked into the face of evil, of those who literally sought the death of the world. I visited concentration camps and interviewed Holocaust survivors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and I vowed not to stand idly by while a new generation of persecutors begin a new round of genocide and mistreatment of scapegoats.

Third, as a young Justice Department lawyer in 1980, I served as a principle draftsperson of the modern law of asylum and refugee protection. Since then, I have retained a parental interest in that law and its application.

What is your hope for the future of the clinic?

I hope that the clinic will be able to expand its advocacy work, administrative, trial, and appellate, and indeed to become the premier pro bono agency for the representation of religious asylum applicants in Southern California. I also hope to help make the clinic a jumping-off point for the training of pro bono asylum counsel within the academic legal community and the elite private bar, such as the large firms here in Los Angeles.

Finally, I very much want to work for the clinic to evolve into a center for the study of religious liberty and persecution in the world. Under the aegis of the Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics, I aspire to have this center sponsor symposia for experts on international religious freedom issues to share their knowledge and wisdom with one another and with the larger law school and university communities, not to mention the citizenry as a whole. In short, and over time, I see the clinic as the first step in the building of a shining city on the hill for educating the protected and protecting the persecuted in the field of asylum in general and religious asylum in particular.

Any final thoughts?

One thing: but for the support and leadership our dean and my friend of 28 years, Ken Starr, this clinic would not have been possible.