St. Gabriel Parish partners with Detroit Mercy law students to host legal clinic

Students from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School help host a free legal clinic Feb. 5 for the Hispanic community at St. Gabriel Parish in Detroit. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — The Hispanic Lawyers Association and the Association of Hispanic Law students at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School co-sponsored a free legal clinic Feb. 5 at St. Gabriel Parish in Detroit, offering pro-bono advice and consultation for Catholics and others who don’t normally have access to a lawyer.

“We’re offering free consultations in immigration, family law, criminal law, landlord and tenant issues,” said Mayra Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Michigan. “We have some wonderful members, and students from UDM Law and the Hispanic Law Students Association and UDM Immigration clinic are here.”

The event came to fruition a month ago, when Rodriguez and Lori Mireles-Smith of the Hispanic and Latino Law Students Association at Detroit Mercy’s law school decided to do something to help the community at the largely Hispanic St. Gabriel Parish.

“During announcements, they asked by show of hands what kinds of issues they need help with,” St. Gabriel pastor Fr. Marc Gawronski said. “I received phone calls from people who need help, and from people who were looking to volunteer their time and energy; it’s all been very encouraging.”

The University of Detroit Mercy Law students have long sponsored an immigration services clinic at SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Parish in downtown Detroit, but this time the students wanted to have an event in the Mexicantown neighborhood.

“This is in the Mexicantown community, they want to have the lawyers come to them, who speak the language, who will meet them where they’re comfortable,” Mireles-Smith said.

Detroit Mercy law students got some hands-on experience with processing legal inquiries, directing them to the proper attorneys.

While a 15- to 20-minute consultation didn’t put all the clients’ minds at ease when it comes to legal issues, Rodriguez said a short consolation can make people aware of their rights.

“Our clients, who may be undocumented, need legal assistance so they know their rights,” Rodriguez said. “And they do have rights in this country. The way we’re helping the community, letting them know their basic rights, explaining what their rights are if they happened to be stopped by the police. Attorneys can give them their card for follow-up if need be.”