Catherine “Katie” Feeley (JD’13) is a former student of CFJC immigration attorney and associate professor Uzoamaka Nzelibe. Today, she is completing the first year of a two year fellowship with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, PA. The first year of the fellowship focuses on a broad survey of child welfare and juvenile justice, while the second year will focus on research and writing related to immigration for children.
Q: What interested you about immigration law in law school?
A: I actually knew I wanted to do immigration work before I came to Northwestern. My background had some connection to immigration since I was little. My mother is from Ecuador and my father has always been involved in international relations work. So we had this revolving door at my house of hosting friends and family and other people who came to the U.S. on the same humanitarian visas that I ended up helping people apply for in the clinic. We would travel and see how people lived in other countries, and I was curious as to why there was such a difference in the standard of living from one place to another, and why it was hard for people to come here to the U.S. and stay for a certain period of time.
Q: Did you become a lawyer to do immigration advocacy?
A: I ended up working in Ecuador with immigrants and refugees from Colombia and I thought that maybe I would do international development work or social work. As I worked with immigrants and refugees, I realized that there was a real need for people who understood the law and how the law could be used to protect them. There’s no replacement for finding basic needs and services for people when they’re in a new country. But the way that I thought I could serve people best was to get them their [legal immigration] status and then they’d have more power to advocate for themselves.
Andrew Block (JD‘94) is the founder of the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center and a former Associate Professor and Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. For the past four months, he has served as the new director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Q: What has the transition from public interest work to leading a government agency been like?
A: There has been a lot to learn. The department is very large–with over 1,800 employees and a 200 billion dollar budget–and oversees all of the state’s juvenile probation offices as well as juvenile correctional facilities. So there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of geography to cover, but I love it. There are a lot of very dedicated people here who want to do the right thing for the demographic we serve, and it’s a real honor to be in a position to try to help them do that work.
Q: Did you ever think that you would end up at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)?
A: Well, one of the great things about the clinic, or at least my clinic experience, is that I did a lot of thinking about both the forest and the trees there. You learn how to help your individual clients, but you have the larger systemic and policy issues at play as well. Since law school I always paid attention to those issues. And while I never would have predicted that I would be the guy who is running the juvenile prisons, on the one hand, on the other hand, I’m not completely surprised I ended up in this position. I think advocates, funders, and people in the field are rethinking what one can do inside the system, and there have been a lot of models of advocates in the system with really positive results.
Colby (JD’13) works as a juvenile attorney at The Bronx Defenders in New York City, where she is part of a team providing legal and social work services for youth and families in the neighborhood.
Q: What was the learning curve like as a young public defender?
A: I remember shadowing attorneys and going to different courtrooms to get to know the judges. It’s intimidating at first. You have to get over that quickly, because you want your client to have a lawyer who is confident and comfortable in front of a judge and a jury. So it definitely takes a second. But it’s a great opportunity and it’s important to be able to think on your feet really quickly. Being in court has helped me develop those skills significantly, over the past year.
Q: Did the clinic experience help you handle so much courtroom time?
A: So my very first experience [in court] was with a client, Mariela, when I did her parole hearing. That was my first experience really appearing on behalf of a client in front of those judicial or deciding bodies. That helped me to build the confidence, to learn what it feels like, how to prepare for those appearances. You go through many drafts of the hearings, and going through that process, and including Mariela in that process and learning how to weave in a client’s story to represent a client in front of this body is pretty integral to how I model my practice now.
Q: You have so many cases that it must be difficult to give each one the attention that you would like. How do you handle that kind of caseload?
by CFJC students Jennifer Coronel and Caitlin Olwell
When Michael* was a child, he identified the body of a man who had been shot and killed. That man was his father.
Michael’s mother had difficulty providing a stable and healthy home while Michael was growing up. She was addicted to drugs and Michael would often have conversations with his mother while she was injecting heroin into her arm. Michael’s childhood was consumed by stress, trauma, and familial disruptions.
One afternoon nine months after his father was murdered, a group of Michael’s friends came over. One boy brought along a younger family member, whom he claimed “did things” sexually, demonstrating what he meant. Tragically, although they did not hit or threaten the victim, Michael and some of the others then engaged in the same sexual misconduct.
At just 13 years old, Michael was arrested. Because Illinois criminal law does not allow consideration of the fact that Michael and his friends were very young and had not acted violently, Michael was charged with the same level and type of offense as a violent or coercive adult sexual predator.
In juvenile court, Michael admitted delinquency for the sexual offense and spent long weeks incarcerated in the detention center. When he was released, he was placed on 5 years of juvenile probation and was required to register as a sex offender — for the rest of his life.