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Passion for immigration law leads graduate to help workers in need

July 14, 2017

Hyun-Ji LeeHyun-Ji Lee found her calling when she took the Immigration Law Clinic in her second year of law school. But she realized that helping someone secure their immigration status is just one part of a much larger legal picture. Immigrants also need help with issues like wage theft, employment discrimination, and other job-related issues.

Lee, a 2017 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, will have a chance to fill in the rest of the picture as the 2017-18 Frances Perkins Fellow at the Unemployment Law Project (ULP).

The fellowship, now in its third year, is a unique partnership between the law school's Access to Justice Institute and ULP, a statewide, not-for-profit law firm established to assist and represent unemployed workers.

"I wanted to expand on the knowledge I gained from the immigration clinic," Lee said. "I worked on the front side of immigration, but immigrants continue to face other disadvantages even after their status is secured."

Lee and her clinic partner won a grant of asylum for a Salvadoran woman, who fled her country due to gang violence, in 2016. She followed that with a summer externship at Catholic Immigration Legal Services and an externship with Washington Defender Association. She has also served as a case worker at the Immigrant Family Advocacy Project.

The Frances Perkins Fellowship is named for the former United States Secretary of Labor and the first female cabinet member who helped establish unemployment insurance and the Social Security and Fair Labor Standards Acts. It expands ULP's capacity to help people who lose their jobs, allowing workers to maintain stability while they search for new employment.

Lee will work with ULP for nine months, starting this September, to provide direct representation, advice, legal education, and community outreach to those who have been denied unemployment benefits or whose award of benefits is being challenged.

Many of the ULP's clients would not be able to afford legal assistance without the firm's help.

The fellowship will provide a salary, health and professional insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and professional development opportunities.