F&M Stories

Preparing a New Generation of Immigration Lawyers

In a building along Franklin & Marshall College’s Hartman Green, immigration law attorney Arielle Chapnick ’14 returns to where her path started 10 years ago.

“I’m going to warn you now the cases are upsetting,” Chapnick says.

She is standing before Professor of Government Susan Dicklitch-Nelson’s Human Rights-Human Wrongs (HR-HW) class, where over two decades, hundreds of students have performed legal research assistance for nearly 100 asylum-seeking cases.

Human Rights-Human Wrongs Class: By the Numbers

202

Students who worked on cases since 2002

96

Cases

42

Cases granted asylum or withholding of removal

43%

Grant-rate

"Asylum seekers often must represent themselves pro se (on their own) because they cannot afford an immigration attorney and are not granted one by the state," Dicklitch-Nelson says. "So, there is a desperate need for the heavy lifting of country-conditions-background research that our undergraduate students can do."

The F&M Global Barometers, which surveys conditions for LGBTQ+ individuals in countries around the world, will be one source the students can access in their research.  


Chapnick ’14 explaining aspects of immigration law before the students begin their asylum research.

Chapnick ’14 explaining aspects of immigration law before the students begin their asylum research.

Nine students listen as Chapnick explains, “The folks coming to us have really sad stories, but that shouldn’t blind you to the fact that each person is resilient and incredible, and truly has risen out of some of the worst things in the world.”

A staff lawyer with the nonprofit Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services in Washington, D.C., Chapnick says Dicklitch-Nelson and her course is what brought her to F&M 10 years ago.

“I learned about this class at a college fair when I was either a sophomore or junior in high school,” she recalls. “I was pretty sure I wanted to be an immigration lawyer when I grew up and when I took this class it definitely solidified it for me.”

After graduating from F&M, she went to work as a paralegal, where, “I took the things I learned in this class and brought them up in my interview. I got hired pretty quickly,” Chapnick says. “Even things I learned in this class I carried with me to law school, where I focused on immigration law.”

“This class really did set me on the path to get to where I am today.”

Arielle Chapnick ’14

She earned her degree from American University Washington College of Law in 2019 and has earned a name for herself at Whitman-Walker, a federally qualified health center that focuses on serving LGBTQ+ communities and people living with HIV.

“I take on mostly immigration cases of people who are afraid to return to their home countries because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status or any combination of those,” she says.

During a five-minute break in her presentation, Chapnick says of the class, “This is something that most undergraduate students don’t get to do. I’m actually going to have students working on my cases just like I worked on cases when I was a Human Rights-Human Wrongs student.” 

Chapnick says it took her boss a little convincing at Whitman-Walker to enlist the students since law students are often helping with the research.  

“I said to my boss, ‘Look, this is not your usual college class,’” she says. “They are going to be learning things that normally someone would learn in law school; they’ll be doing law-school-level work.’”

Her boss not only agreed, but appeared on Zoom to speak to the class. 

Chapnick sees success in even just one of the students becoming an immigration lawyer.

“This class really did set me on the path to get to where I am today,” she says. “I was sitting in this classroom with Dr. Dicklitch-Nelson 10 years ago.”

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